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State of the System 2020: Catcher

Francisco Alvarez
Steve Sypa

For many years, the catcher depth was a problem for the Mets. After developing Josh Thole, who made his major league debut in 2009, it seemed that the Mets would have a glut of riches in Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki. While both did indeed make the majors, both struggled and have since moved on from the Mets.

One of the top talents available worldwide during the 2013-2014 international signing period, the Mets signed Venezuelan catcher Ali Sanchez for $690,000 and hoped that he would be able to develop into the next great Venezuelan catcher. While that hasn’t exactly been the case, the 23-year-old Sanchez hit an acceptable .261/.326/.322 in 92 games split between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Syracuse, earning himself a spot on the Mets’ 40-man roster. Sanchez uses the entire field with a smooth, contact-oriented swing, but will need to begin hitting the ball with more authority in order to hit better in the upper levels of the minors and in the majors. While there are questions about his offense, nobody doubts his defensive ability. While his arm is only average, he excels at all of the other facets of the position and is generally considered an above-average defensive catcher.

Drafted in the 8th round draft pick in the 2015 MLB Draft out of Stetson University, Patrick Mazeika zoomed through the lower minors, owing to an advanced hit tool. Once he got to Double-A, that changed and he struggled against advanced pitching, hitting a cumulative .241/.321/.405 in 209 games at that level. Part of his struggles have been due to a continuing quest to add more power to his game by adding more plane to his swing, as his swing plan was generally flat and level. Mazeika has struggled behind the plate as well, to the point that the Mets have begun playing him at first base. While his arm is strong, he is not particularly mobile and needs to continue working on his receiving and blocking.

Juan Uriarte, who was an intriguing international signing out of Mexico a few years ago has not developed in any meaningful way. Excitement was high in 2018, when he was assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones following a strong season in Kingsport where he hit .305/.372/.455, but the year turned out to be a lost one thanks to an injury. He was assigned to the Columbia Fireflies in 2019 and hit a disappointing .200/.238/.297. With a compact, level swing, Uriarte never projected to hit for much power, but his struggles to hit for average is concerning. There should be no such concerns for him behind the dish, as he is a strong defender, possessing a strong arm and advanced blocking abilities.

Catcher Fransisco Alvarez was considered one of the top free agents available during the 2018-2019 international rookie signing period and has experienced a great deal of helium since then, rocketing from the Mets’ 25th top prospect in 2019 to the Mets’ 6th top prospect in 2020. Coming into the 2019 season, evaluators saw promise in ability to hit, but were unsure about his ability to hit for power or his defense. After hitting .312/.407/.510 in 42 games with the GCL and Kingsport Mets, Alvarez silenced virtually all critics. His hit tool was even more advanced than evaluators gave him credit for, he hit for more power than evaluators initially believed he would be able to, and rather than being a liability, Alvarez was a defensive force behind the plate.

Splitting time behind the dish with Alvarez were two other interesting catchers, Wilfred Astudillo and Andres Regnault.

The younger brother of Minnesota Twins catcher Willians Astudillo, Wilfred has many of the same strengths and weaknesses. Signed on July 19, 2016 for $150,000, he was originally linked to the Boston Red Sox, but when the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball banned Boston from signing international free agents during the 2016-2017 signing period, the Mets were able to pounce. Appearing in 36 games for the Kingsport Mets in 2019, the 19-year-old Venezuelan hit .267/.323/.408 in 120 at-bats. A switch-hitter, Astudillo has a hit-over-power profile, making a lot of contact and spraying line drives around the field. Behind the plate, pitchers enjoy throwing to him, as he makes for a big target, moves surprisingly well for a guy his size behind the dish, and frames pitches effectively.

Not considered a highly regarded prospect, Andres Regnault signed with the Mets a few weeks into the 2015-2016 international free agent signing period and spent the next three years in the Dominican Summer League. Promoted stateside in 2019, the 20-year-old appeared in 44 games, hitting .292/.328/.489 in 178 at-bats. Regnault is able to generate a fair amount of power thanks to natural strength and average-to-above-average bat speed, and while he does not strike out at a high rate, he does not draw walks at a high rate either. At 6’0”, 250-pounds, he does not move particularly well behind the plate, but does feature a strong, accurate arm.

Originally expected to sign with the Brewers, Fernando Villalobos got stuck in limbo in July 2017 when the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball put a freeze on signing any players affiliated with Mexico’s Liga Mexicana de Béisbol clubs. The freeze was lifted in March 2019 and Villalobos signed with the Mets in May, shortly before the 2018-2019 signing window closed. The 17-year-old was assigned to the Dominican Summer League for the 2019 season and, playing for both Mets DSL squads, hit .195/.382/.232 in 30 combined games, stealing 5 bases, walking 22 times, and striking out 33 times. Still a very raw player, Villalobos’s offensive game involves around spraying line drives around the field. Extremely athletic, he moves well behind the plate and displays above-average pop times, but still has a lot of work to do on his framing and receiving techniques- nothing unusual for a play as raw as he is.