Name: Francisco Álvarez
Weight: 230 lbs.
Acquired: IFA, July 2, 2018 (Guatire, Venezuela)
2022 Stats: 112 G, 495 AB, .260/.374/.511, 107 H, 22 2B, 0 3B, 27 HR, 70 BB, 123 K, 0/0 SB, .300 BABIP (Double-A/Triple-A)
Considered one of the top international rookies in the 2018-2019 class, the Mets pounced on Venezuelan catcher Francisco Álvarez, immediately signing him for a club-high $2.7 million, breaking Ronny Mauricio’s then-record $2.1 million signing bonus. The Mets elected not to have him play professionally that year, instead delaying his professional debut until 2019.The 17-year-old began his year with the GCL Mets but forced a promotion to Kingsport after hitting .462/.548/.846 in seven games. As the youngest player in the league, Álvarez appeared in 35 games for Kingsport, catching 23 and serving as DH in 12, and hit a robust .282/.377/.443.
His much-anticipated full-season debut never actually got to happen in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he was invited to the Coney Island alternate site and the fall instructional league, where he impressed many in and outside of the organization. He finally made his full-season debut in 2021, being assigned to the Low-A St. Lucie Mets to begin the year. Despite being one of the youngest players in the league, the backstop looked like a man among boys, hitting .417/.567/.646 in 15 games with 2 home runs, 15 walks, and 7 strikeouts. By the end of the month, the Mets promoted the 19-year-old to High-A Brooklyn, where he would be almost four years younger than the league average. His time with the Cyclones would have some peaks (.299/.419/.636 in 24 games in June with 6 home runs and a 14:22 BB:K ratio) and valleys (.189/.294/.419 in 21 games in July with 5 home runs and an 8:28 BB:K ratio) but overall the young catcher performed at an elite level, hitting .247/.351/.538 in 84 games with 22 home runs (a new Cyclones record), 40 walks, and 82 strikeouts.
Considered one of the best prospects in baseball by all reputable national media outlets, Álvarez began the 2022 season with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, almost four years younger than the Eastern League average. He started the season off with a bang, going 3-5 with a homer and a pair of doubles in his first game and barely slowed, hitting .277/.368/.553 in 67 games with Binghamton, slugging 18 home runs, drawing 36 walks, and striking out 71 times. He was promoted to the Syracuse Mets in early July, and for the first time in months, the young backstop struggled. In 45 games from July 4 until the end of August, Álvarez hit .180/.340/.378 with 6 homers, 24 walks, and 40 strikeouts. The organization eventually put the backstop on the injured list due to loose bodies discovered in his right ankle. Surgery was a possibility, but a cortisone shot allowed Álvarez to return to the field. Though he went hitless in his first game back, he made up for lost time, hitting .362/.483/.596 in 13 games through the end of September with 3 homers, 10 walks, and 12 strikeouts. The Mets called him up to the major leagues at the beginning of September after Brett Baty injured himself and Mark Vientos struggled, and the 20-year-old rookie showed tantalizing potential but failed to be a difference-making sparkplug, going 2-14 in 12 games with a double, home run, 2 walks, and 4 strikeouts. All in all, Álvarez hit .277/.368/.553 in 67 games with Binghamton, .234/.382/.443 in 45 games with Syracuse, and .260/.374/.511 in 112 combined games with 27 home runs, 70 walks, and 123 strikeouts, making him one of the best prospects, if not the best, in all of baseball. Following the conclusion of the season, Álvarez underwent surgery in his ankle to remove the loose bodies that had been bothering him at the end of the year.
At the plate, Álvarez 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 Álvarez’s 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.
He has an advanced approach at the plate for someone so young, a skill honed further by his time spent behind the plate. He sometimes gets into a groove trying to pull the ball for power but uses the entire field and is a tough out. Álvarez is unlikely to add more power thanks to additional growth- he is already a bit over 200-pounds- but he might by further refining his swing mechanics and/or plate discipline.
Behind the plate, the Venezuelan has all of the tools to be a league average defender, but whether or not he puts everything together remains to be seen. Álvarez moves 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 and to remain at the position. The Mets were working with him in 2021 to frame pitches better by having him receive the ball on one knee, and the transition is still a work in progress as his catching skills are still more stabby than smooth. Álvarez 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 his physical baseball skills, Álvarez 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 being so young 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.
Statistically, Álvarez had a very similar season in 2022 as compared to his breakout 2021, but this time against better competition. Things looked a little dicey in Triple-A, but (A) he still had a .825 OPS and (B) he was doing that while apparently hurt. Considered one of the best prospects in all of baseball, if not the best, it’s only a matter of time before Álvarez is starting every day behind the dish (or as the DH) for the Mets.
For my money, Álvarez is the second best prospect in baseball (behind Gunnar Henderson). He’s got loads of power, a better approach than you might expect, and I think he should be serviceable enough behind the dish to stick there. Give him some time to iron out the tendency to swing at 50-foot curveballs and I think you’ve got a real special player on your hands here. Hopefully his ankle isn’t a problem and the Mets don’t hold him down too long, because he should be ready to seize control of the full-time catching job sometime in 2023.
Since leaving rookie ball as a seventeen year old with tremendous potential, it has become abundantly clear to me that Álvarez is way more likely to be a mountain than a mole hill at the games highest levels. The young catcher has taken every unreasonably aggressive assignment the organization has thrown at him and thrived, even if each step up the organizational ladder came with an adjustment period that may have caused some to doubt his potential. Even during his very brief time in the majors last year, in which he generally looked overmatched in a minuscule sample, Álvarez flashed the kind of elite power that has become something of a calling card on his journey through the minor leagues. In any event he will definitely need significant reps at the major league level, both at the plate and behind the dish, to reach the heights that his raw talent gives him the potential to climb to.
While Álvarez’s immense talent in the batters box makes the reward of ending up with an elite hitter at the game’s thinnest offensive position certainly should outweigh the risk of allowing a rookie to figure out how to thrive at the big league level, it remains to be seen if the Mets agree with this assessment. Their actions this off-season suggest they may not be willing to give him the runway he needs to adjust to the unique challenges of hitting major league pitching, and handling a major league pitching staff. There are questions about his future as a catcher, and his unique body type limit the fallback options if he is unable to develop further at the game’s most specialized defensive position.
It’s become clear that Álvarez’s time as a prospect is dwindling, and that the 21-year-old catcher has nothing left to prove in the minors. One way or another, we are all going to find out if he turns out to be a particularly deceptive mole hill, or the mountain of a prospect I’ve been dreaming on since seeing him in the complex as a seventeen year old.
Álvarez is the best prospect in the Mets system, bar none. He is in the top 10 of basically any publication you can imagine, and his ceiling is the sky. While he isn’t without his marks against him, much like any prospect: he doesn’t really have a fallback position if the defense behind the plate isn’t great, and evaluators do not really love his defense as it is currently constructed (me included). Regardless, he is deserving of his top prospect status because of his bat, and the top tier power he has shown despite being much younger than the competition at basically every step of the way.