FORT MYERS, Fla. -- This may have been just the start of Spring Training, but for prospect Marcos Molina, it seemed like more.
Staring down Andrew Benintendi, Hanley Ramirez and Jackie Bradley Jr. in the fourth inning of the Mets' 3-2 win over the Red Sox on Friday, Molina had a unique opportunity -- not only to prove he could best some of the game's top hitters, but also that he is all the way back from a Tommy John surgery that robbed him of nearly two full developmental seasons.
"He looked tremendous today," catcher Travis d'Arnaud said of the Mets' 14th-ranked prospect, who finished with two perfect innings. "Fearless. Attacked hitters, had good poise out there."
It has been a long road back for Molina, whom the Mets signed as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2012. Three years later, the ulnar collateral ligament in Molina's right elbow snapped, necessitating surgery. He did not pitch at all last summer, finally returning to the mound in the Arizona Fall League. While the rust was evident in Molina's eight strikeouts against seven walks in 16 2/3 innings, so was the potential.
"That was a key for us was to get him back on the mound and make sure he was OK, and for him to prove to himself that he was healthy," Mets director of Minor League operations Ian Levin said. "He looked very good. He was up to 95 [mph]. He was strong and healthy and gave us belief that he could be back to what he was before."
Now it's a matter of how quickly Molina can advance through the system. Two weeks shy of his 22nd birthday, the right-hander might have already been nearing a big league debut had surgery not interfered with his plans. Instead, the Mets will ease Molina back into competitive baseball this summer, considering he has never thrown more than 76 innings in a professional season -- and that workload occurred three years ago.
If healthy, Molina still has the tools -- a mid-90s fastball, plus a slider and a changeup -- to ride alongside blue-chip prospects Justin Dunn and Thomas Szapucki on the Mets' next major wave of starting pitching. Friday's performance against Ramirez and friends was merely a start, but a flashy one at that.
"Sometimes you're frustrated," Molina said of his recovery, noting that he now feels stronger than he did before surgery. "You see your friends play but you stay there. But you only need to keep your mind strong and work hard and keep going."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.