Tonight, the Mets welcome their most anticipated call-up in years when Francisco Álvarez, their 20 year old top prospect, joins the club in Atlanta for this all important series. Álvarez looks to likely DH tonight against lefty Max Fried, and will likely not be donning the catcher’s gear anytime this weekend, and perhaps not until next spring. Here is how Álvarez was described by our minor leagues crew when we dubbed him the Met’s top prospect coming into the 2022 season:
At the plate, Alvarez stands open with a wide base and the bat high, wrapped behind his head. Swinging with a toe tap or very minute leg lift, he transfers his weight and power from load to hips extremely efficiently and the ball explodes off the bat when he makes solid contact. Oftentimes, players that wrap the bat head behind their heads have difficulties keeping their swing short or keeping the trajectory of the ball in their swing path, but thanks to Alvarez’ strong wrists and exceptional bat speed, this minor hitch is not a problem. The swing itself is loose and flows, and the ball really jumps off his bat when he makes solid contact. Over the course of the 2021 season, the young backstop maintained an extremely high exit velocity, averaging 94.7 MPH in his time in Low-A and maxing out at 108.7 MPH.
He has an advanced approach at the plate for someone so young, a skill honed further by his time spent behind the plate. While his 72.9% contact rate in 2021 was a little lower than the MLB average (around 80%), he swings at fewer pitches outside the zone than the MLB average and makes harder contact, meaning that he is selective with the pitches he attacks outside of the zone and generally goes after pitches that he feels comfortable driving. Alvarez is unlikely to add more power thanks to additional growth- he is already 230-pounds- but might by further refining his swing mechanics and/or plate discipline. He uses the entire field and hits more balls in the air than he does on the ground, allowing his natural power charge the ball.
Behind the plate, the Venezuelan is an impressive catcher. Among his cohort, only Kansas City Royals prospect MJ Melendez saw more inning behind the dish than Alvarez’ 488.1. In fact, his 488.1 innings are more than any top catching prospect not named Adley Rutchman, Joey Bart, or Shea Langeliers (all of whom are considerably older and were collegiate players). Alvarez moves incredibly well behind the plate, especially for someone as stocky as him- though he will likely need to maintain his weight in the future to continue to be. The Mets were working with him in 2021 to frame pitches better by having him receive the ball on one knee, and while it did not lead to more passed balls, it did influence his ability to control the running game. Alvarez has an above-average arm in terms of strength and accuracy and has posted above-average pop and release times in the past, but needs to further refine those attributes with his framing abilities.
In addition to all of his physical baseball skills, Alvarez also has a makeup and presence that earns universal praise from scouts, evaluators, coaches, and teammates. He is tough as nails and forces his way into the lineup despite the general rigors of catching. He has a high baseball IQ despite his years and is given latitude when handling his pitching staff- and they generally rave about his work. He is an energetic gamer on the field and is an excellent clubhouse presence.
Álvarez took home the Amazin’ Avenue Minor League Player of the Week honors four times this season. He would likely have snagged it a few more times if not for the period of adjustment after he was promoted to Triple-A Syracuse, as well as an ankle injury that many presumed would preclude this call-up this season. But since returning to the lineup in mid-September, Álvarez hit .362 with five extra base hits, ten walks, and ten RBIs.
Against lefties this season, Álvarez batted .315./424./595 with eight home runs. While he hit 19 dingers against righties, he did so in nearly triple the plate appearances. With that kind of prodigious power, it seems like, though he may debut as a platoon player, that does not appear to be his ceiling.
His defense is still a work in progress. While his throwing arm is strong, his actions behind the plate still need work. He’s also still learning the finer points of pitch framing. It’s likely that he’ll end up a below-average defender behind the dish, if he can stick back there at all, but that is more than enough defensive value if his bat plays to its potential.