FAYETTEVILLE — Needing one more weekend starter to complete its rotation, Arkansas had its eye on the transfer portal this summer and quickly identified Mason Molina as the missing piece.
The only problem was so did about 37 other schools. After all, he was the ace of a Texas Tech team that won 41 games and was one win away from reaching the super regionals.
Luckily for the Razorbacks, the left-hander had his sights set on pitching for an SEC team that could develop him for the next level and had national championship aspirations. They checked both boxes, but so did several others.
Ultimately, Arkansas beat out two programs led by premier pitching coaches-turned-head coaches – Texas A&M (Jim Schlossnagle) and Georgia (former Arkansas assistant Wes Johnson).
“Everything at Arkansas was kind of the perfect fit and exactly what I was looking for,” Molina told Best of Arkansas Sports. “How well the coaches worked together was the biggest factor. Nowhere else was it as uniform and tight-knit and working as one unit as it is here.”
It also helped that Molina’s catcher at Texas Tech, Hudson White, had already committed to Arkansas and that he pitched alongside Hagen Smith with Team USA, but his recruitment was still a “dog fight,” pitching coach Matt Hobbs told BoAS after fall ball.
In terms of projected impact, D1Baseball ranked Molina as the 10th-best overall transfer and third-best starting pitcher in this transfer portal class, so it was “definitely worth it,” Hobbs said. He added that the lefty has fit in well with the pitching staff from a culture standpoint.
“He’s been everything that we thought he was going to be in terms of the type of worker or the type of competitor,” Hobbs said. “I think that it’s easy to look at a guy and be like, ‘Wow, that guy’s really competitive,’ but as we’re going through the process of recruiting him to try to get him to come here, that’s what we kept hearing from people was like, ‘Hey, yeah, he’s really good, but he’s also an elite competitor.’”
Projected Weekend Starter: LHP Mason Molina
Jr. | 6-2 | 225 | Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. (Trabuco Hills HS)
2023 Stats: 16 G/16 GS, 6-2, 3.67 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 108 K/35 BB, 83.1 IP, .208 BAA
Last season, Mason Molina earned second-team All-Big 12 honors at Texas Tech after posting a 3.67 ERA and notching 108 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings.
Although he mixed in his changeup some, he posted those numbers while primarily using a three-pitch mix. In an exclusive interview with Best of Arkansas Sports following fall ball, Matt Hobbs said that was a point of emphasis upon his arrival in Fayetteville.
“We had identified like, hey, you got to throw more changeups if you’re going to be successful,” Hobbs said. “If you can lengthen out your arsenal, so it’s not just fastball, curveball, slider and there’s a changeup that the other team has to respect.”
Molina began toying with the pitch, searching for ways to give it more depth, and found inspiration from Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Devin Williams, a two-time All-Star and arguably the best reliever in the game.
In an interview with MLB Network, Williams went in depth on the grip and delivery he used for his “Airbender,” the highest spin-rate changeup in the big leagues and the pitch that has helped him put up Kevin Kopps-like numbers at the MLB level.
“He thinks of throwing his changeup more like a slider, kind of a slider from the inside of the ball,” Molina said. “So I started trying to do that and thankfully I have the pronation to be able to get over the ball and throw it like that and it just kind of clicked.”
The result was another “couple hundred” RPMs on the spin rate of his changeup. But that wasn’t his only pitch that improved over the offseason.
Thanks to some added strength gained via the weight room and improved mechanics, which has helped him be more efficient and have better timing with his delivery, the velocity of Molina’s fastball has also increased.
His average velocity was under 90 mph last season at Texas Tech, but he’s averaged 91.4 mph across his fall scrimmage outings and bullpen sessions with the Razorbacks. The hope is that it will tick up a little bit more as the season progresses and temperature rises. In fact, in a recent bullpen, Molina said he mostly sat at 92 mph.
All of that went into a very impressive fall in which he threw eight shutout innings across six starts in Arkansas’ intrasquad scrimmages. According to unofficial stats compiled by the media, Molina allowed just one hit and had 15 strikeouts, but did issue six walks.
“He walked too many batters this fall, but we didn’t hit him at all,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said following fall ball. “He needs to command the zone better. And he really didn’t have that breaking ball he had throughout the season last year.”
If he can maintain his improved changeup and increased velocity while still consistently commanding the strike zone, Molina could easily be the missing piece that gives Arkansas the best starting rotation in all of college baseball.
Arkansas Baseball’s 2024 Pitching Staff
- RHP Ben Bybee – sophomore
- RHP Dylan Carter – redshirt senior
- LHP Parker Coil – sophomore
- RHP Cooper Dossett – sophomore
- RHP Jake Faherty – junior
- RHP Christian Foutch – sophomore
- RHP Koty Frank – super senior
- RHP Josh Hyneman – redshirt freshman (Tommy John surgery)
- RHP Will McEntire – redshirt senior
- LHP Hagen Smith – junior
- RHP Brady Tygart – junior
- RHP Gage Wood – sophomore
- LHP Stone Hewlett – senior (transfer from Kansas)
- LHP Mason Molina – junior (transfer from Texas Tech)
- RHP Jaewoo Cho – freshman
- LHP Hunter Dietz – freshman
- LHP Colin Fisher – freshman
- RHP Gabe Gaeckle – freshman
- LHP Adam Hachman – freshman
- LHP Tucker Holland – freshman
- RHP Tate McGuire – freshman
- RHP Diego Ramos – freshman
- LHP Jack Smith – freshman
Miss our season preview pieces on Arkansas baseball’s other two projected starters? Check them out below:
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