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Aliso Niguel's Molnar is the ace everyone wants
ALISO VIEJO - To be a young, talented high school baseball pitcher courted by Major League Baseball and prominent major colleges is a wonderful situation. It’s like having two attractive dates for the prom.
But Kyle Molnar, the right-hander for Aliso Niguel, has an advantage beyond these win-win choices – the people scouting him feel he’s ready for the next level of his career very, very soon.
When professional scouts look at his size – a mature, fully filled-out 6-foot-4 athlete – they see someone who has already grown into his body, unlike many high school pitchers who often need a few more years to add muscle mass.
When scouts watch him throw, they see someone with good mechanics, a consistent and effortless delivery, and who’s the owner of three pitches he can throw for strikes, which is at least one more than usual for someone his age.
A scout for a West Coast major league team who requested anonymity says he’s the one high school pitcher in June’s 2015 MLB amateur draft that is ready, which means his minor league apprenticeship will be brisk. If he chooses college, he’ll be an instant starter as a freshman.
Molnar is committed to UCLA, choosing the Bruins over other offers from Oregon, USC and the University of San Diego, if he doesn’t sign pro.
“It will be a difficult decision, but whatever I decide will be a good one,” the soft-spoken and genial Molnar said recently during an interview. “UCLA just felt right. It was my No.1 choice as a sophomore. It’s a great school and a great baseball program. My mom went to UCLA, so it means something for me to go there.”
“Kyle has a chance to be a major impact player in our program as a freshman,” Bruin coach John Savage said when Molnar signed his letter of intent. “He has a tremendous fastball with a very advanced change-up.”
Molnar was first noticed by baseball youth coaches in Little League when he was 11, about the same time he started playing summer travel ball. By the time he was 14, coaches started talking about him more as a pitcher than a hitter, even though he’s very good with a bat in his hand.
“Fourteen was big for me,” Molnar said. “I had a jump in my velocity and I started to learn more about the mechanics of pitching and the small things that go into being successful.”
His high school career has been exemplary. As a freshman in 2012, he was 5-3 with a 1.42 ERA and helped the Wolverines to the CIF-SS Divison 2 title game. As a sophomore, he was 8-3 with a 2.25 ERA.
As a junior in 2014, his speed developed and he began overwhelming high school hitters, with 81 strikeouts in 81 innings while going 10-2 with a 1.81 ERA. He had an eight-inning no-hitter during the season while striking out 10.
This season, he is already 4-1 with a 1.08 ERA in 321/3 innings. He has struck out 30 and walked three. He’s also hitting .318 with a team-high 14 RBI and one home run.
Aliso is 11-5 overall and ranked fifth in the county by the Register.
Next week, he’ll pitch in the prestigious Boras Classic, which will feature all of the powerhouse teams in Orange County – Aliso Niguel, Mater Dei, JSerra, San Clemente, Huntington Beach, and nearby powers like Long Beach Wilson, Alemany of West Hills and Vista Murrieta.
He has played in the annual SoCal Showcase, the Area Code Games, twice, and feeds off the showcase events attended by the top players in the nation.
“You’re playing with a lot of great players,” he said “In Southern California, we can play all year, so that’s an advantage for us. With all the competition on the field, you feed off the other guys’ talent and advice.”
Last summer, he played for the USA Baseball Under-18 national team in the COPABE Pan American Championships in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He threw back-to-back one-hitters in wins against Panama and Mexico, striking out 11 in 13 innings of work, as the USA team routed the field.
“He can run it up there pretty good with his heavy fastball, and he has a plus change-up,” Shaun Cole, one of the USA Baseball coaches, said. “Those two were really all he needed because he was able to move the fastball around and throw that change-up, which was extremely effective. He is a workhorse.”
“It was the best experience I ever had, better than the showcases I had played in,’’ Molnar said. “Playing in another country against good players in a major tournament was a whole new experience for me.
“It was just an unbelievable experience to get out there on the mound wearing the USA uniform for the first time. The shutout against Mexico was huge. The crowd was definitely not on our side and it got really intense. I just wanted to focus in because I knew the fans were going to scream at me and everyone else on the field the whole entire time.’’
Molnar’s fastball sits at 90 mph and tops out at 94. He originally just threw a four-seam fastball, with its unique late action, and has since added a two-seamer, a fastball with a different look. More importantly, he learned the nuances of the change-up, usually the hardest pitch for young plays to learn.
His breaking pitches are more than adequate; he once considered the curve his best pitch before his velocity developed.
“There are only so many pitchers who can hit 90, which is awesome,” he said. “But the fastball itself is not going to get you to the next level. The best high school hitters can hit a 90 mph fastball. The coaches and scouts tell me having three good pitches is what’s gotten their attention.
“There was a time when my breaking ball was an out pitch. That’s changed over time, but I’ve kept working on the curve to give me more pitches can throw for strikes.’’
His high school coach, Craig Hanson, likes Molnar for reasons beyond his ability to get batters out.
“He’s a very hard worker and competitor,” Hanson said. “Kyle comes ready to practice each and every day, and he carries that work ethic into all of his games.”
Molnar has spent seven years playing travel ball with the best players in Southern California. He’s gotten to know San Clemente’s left-handed ace, Kolby Allard.
Scouting projections are modestly educated guesses. One mock draft by a site that tracks draft prospects has Molnar rated as the ninth player to be chosen; another has him 51st.
Baseball America lists him as No. 47 in its Top 50 prospects for the 2015 MLB draft, which includes college players. He is ranked No. 23 on Baseball America’s 2015 Top 25 just for high school prospects.
The financial benefits, thanks to MLB “slotting” of player bonuses based on where they’re drafted, makes the draft less than scientific. Major League teams often make decisions based on signability. If a player has a major college scholarship in hand – as Molnar does with UCLA – it can change a team’s mind.
His decision to commit to UCLA was an easy one, because he loves the school, it’s his mom’s alma mater, and Savage is also the school’s pitching coach and has done wonders improving a young player’s abilities as well as his draft status.
Exhibit A is Orange Lutheran’ Gerrit Cole. He was a first-round pick by the Yankees in the 2008 draft, the 28th player overall. Cole spurned the pinstripes to go to UCLA, where he and the Bruins went to the postseason three times and reached the College World Series in 2010.
Cole re-entered the 2011 draft and was the first pick by Pittsburgh. He was 10-7 for the Pirates in 2013, 11-4 in 2015, and is their ace.
Whatever path Molnar chooses will lead him someplace where he’ll be comfortable and confident of success. Molnar will graduate as an honor student in more ways than one.