In his final outing before starting the New York-Penn League's All-Star Game, Marcos Molina showed why he deserved to take the hill in the circuit's midseason classic.
In his first start since the showcase, he gave another indication why he just might be on the fast track through the Mets system.
New York's No. 16 prospect struck out eight batters while allowing one run on one hit and five walks over 6 1/3 innings in short-season Brooklyn's 10-1 rout of the visiting Tri-City Valley Cats.
"He has had a phenomenal year," Cyclones manager Tom Gamboa said of Molina. "He is leading this league in almost all of the important categories. As good as this outing was, he was actually a little bit off. He gave up one hit and struck out eight in seven innings, but he also walked five, which is very uncharacteristic.
"It was just an aberration. He pitched a very good game, it wasn't like we were making great plays behind him. He has the ability to take the sting out of a hitter's swing by changing speeds. Hitters just don't get very good swings against him."
Molina, who induced nine ground-ball outs and uncorked one wild pitch, lowered his ERA to 1.56 in his seventh victory of the year. But as in the past, it took a couple innings for the 6-foot-3 native of the Dominican Republic to find his groove.
The 19-year-old gave up his lone run in the first inning when Jason Martin led off the game with a walk, stole second base, advanced to third base on Derek Fisher's deep flyout to right field and scored on a wild pitch.
"Even through his ERA is 1.56, the thing he has to work on in the future is not getting in trouble in the first inning," Gamboa said. "We've tried to get him to warm up differently and longer or to focus more, but inevitably they score in the first inning. Take away that first inning and his ERA is virtually nothing.
"Ever since the days of Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, the Mets have been considered a pitching team. He is another in the fold. His future is right in front of him."
While Molina settled down after the early jitters, he still worked in and out of trouble. He issued walks in five of the seven innings, but he rolled a pair of double-play balls to erase the threats.
Gamboa called Molina "poised" and "polished," adding hopes the Mets have him finish 2015 no lower than Class A Advanced St. Lucie.
"He needs to be challenged to get the most out of him. I would like to see him, at 20, be challenged. I think the Florida State League is a good place for him. There's a good chance they take him on the natural course to Savannah for a couple months, but I would expect him to finish next year in Port St. Lucie.
"He is just a different guy and different guys don't take a normal progression. I'm sure the Mets will be very pleased with the year he has had. I think he is on the really fast track in terms of his development."
Molina, who worked a scoreless first inning in Tuesday's All-Star Game at MCU Park four days after striking out 12 batters against Vermont, has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 10 of his 11 starts and he has kept the opponents without a run in four of those games. He has a league-best 81 strikeouts with only 17 walks over 69 1/3 innings, and he is holding teams to a .167 average that also ranks first on the circuit.
His seven wins are shared for the league lead with Tri-City duo Joe Musgrove and Troy Scribner.
"This is the only uncharacteristic game he's had this year," said Gamboa. "Almost 70 innings and 17 walks and almost one-third of those walks came in this one game. And 81 strikeouts, that strikeout-to-walk ratio is almost 4.5-to-1. His delivery is like an efficient machine.
"I see him more than other pitchers in this league, but he's the No. 1 pitching prospect in this league. Earlier this season, we played against Dylan Bundy in Aberdeen and Dan Duquette and his entourage were there to see how Bundy was progressing. He went seven [innings] and struck out seven. Molina went seven and only gave up one or two hits. If a fan went to the ballpark and saw a Major Leaguer was rehabbing, they'd have to ask which team he was on."