GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Eyebrows were raised when minor-league pitcher Nestor Molina was dealt to the Chicago White Sox straight up for closer Sergio Santos in November. The 23-year-old Molina didn't say whether he was surprised by the trade but is just happy to have the opportunity with a team that clearly thinks highly of him.
"So as far as a trade, it’s a great opportunity for me to come in and hopefully contribute and get on the team," Molina said through Jackson Miranda, the team’s manager of cultural development.
Molina posted stellar minor league numbers in the Toronto Blue Jays system since he was moved from third base to the pitcher’s mound late in 2007. But he has yet to make his big-league debut.
Molina enters the season as the White Sox’s second-ranked prospect, according to Baseball America, which also cited him as having the best control in the organization. Between Class A Dunedin and Class AA New Hampshire last season, Molina combined to go 12-3 with a 2.21 ERA, striking out 148 over 130 1/3 innings in 26 games.
Although the White Sox's starting rotation is set, Molina said he still hopes to break camp with the club.
"I would definitely be disappointed if I didn't make the team because I came in here with the mindset that I'm going to be on the roster," he said. "But if I don't make it, I'll work my butt off in the minor leagues, and I know there will be an opportunity sometime during the season where I'll be able to move back up."
Molina said it took him about a season to get his arm in pitching shape. He patterned his game after Melvin Mora coming up as a position player. But there isn’t a pitcher he tries to model himself after. Molina wants to carve his own path. The one benefit going from a position player to a pitcher is that he understands the mindset of a hitter.
Manager Robin Ventura said he was very curious to get a look at Molina, and after the third day of spring training was impressed by his athleticism.
"He's very balanced," Ventura said. "You see it in everything he does. He's very balanced in the way that he throws doing the drills in the backfield. You can tell that he's just an athlete and not just a pitcher. It's always a tough transition, but for him it's nice to see the way the ball comes out of his hand."