Note: This piece was written before Álvarez was designated for assignment earlier today.
For a team that—despite its overall success—struggled to hit for power in 2022, one would think that the Mets would be chomping at the bit to add Francisco Álvarez to the everyday lineup this upcoming season. The 21-year-old catcher is widely regarded as the team’s top prospect—including by the fine minor league folks on this very website!—and the major reason for that is for his prestigious power. That power was on full display in 2022, as he slugged 27 homers across 112 minor league games split between Double and Triple A ball and continued to be the most impressive offensive player in the entire farm system. His season was impressive enough for him to make his major league debut at the end of the year—before he could legally drink in the United States—and while he didn’t have enough time to fully showcase his skills, he was able to get his first major league homer out of the way. It was a brief but intoxicating tease at what we could have to look forward to for years to come as the Mets hope to finally address the gaping hole at the catcher spot that has plagued them since Mike Piazza left after the 2005 season.
In theory, all of these factors could have meant that the Mets would be eager to anoint him the everyday catcher heading into the 2023 season. And yet, the way they operated this offseason gave the exact opposite impression—that the club is determined to wait as long as humanly possible before entrusting the position to him. They chose to sign Omar Narváez to a one-year contract with an option for a second season, and they locked in Tomás Nido’s last two arbitration years as well. Álvarez’s upside is immeasurably higher than either of those two players, but it seems as though the Mets prioritized experience over talent when making their plans at the position for the 2023 season—and possibly even beyond that. As a result, barring injury, it seems likely that Álvarez is destined to begin the year in Syracuse—despite the fact that he’s already demonstrated that he really has very little left to prove in the minor leagues.
Well, that’s true of his offense, at least. His defense, on the other hand, remains an uncertainty. While plenty of scouts believe that Álvarez has all the tools to be a serviceable catcher, there have consistently been questions about whether his defense and game-calling would be good enough for him to hack it in the majors—even with his incredible offensive potential. Certainly, one would have to assume that the Mets have at least some concerns on this front, or else they’d have been much more likely to take a chance on Álvarez as the everyday catcher on the major league squad.
Look, it’s not a bad thing to be cautious with your top prospects. There’s always going to be some measure of risk when giving an unproven player an important role on your squad, so there’s certainly an argument to be made for Narváez and Nido being the safer catching options. And it’s also perfectly reasonable to prioritize defensive considerations at catcher much more than you would for most other positions, given the role they play in working with the pitching staff. The club is also clearly hoping that Narváez—a fellow Venezuelan catcher—will be able to serve as a valuable mentor to Álvarez, at least during spring training when the two are on the same roster.
And yet... if Álvarez does not have a clear path to the major league squad now, when exactly will he? Maybe Narváez and Nido’s offensive production proves to be severely lacking and Álvarez plays well enough at Syracuse to force the club’s hand. Maybe an injury occurs that leads to Álvarez getting his shot. But there’s also a scenario where Narváez and Nido are healthy and fine-ish and the Mets become unwilling to mess with the pitching staff by changing the catcher mid-season, thereby creating a scenario where Álvarez is stuck in Triple A regardless of how ready he proves himself to be. That may not be the likeliest scenario—more often than not, these types of situations tend to work themselves out on their own—but it’s within the realm of possibility. And the thought that the Mets could conceivably keep their top prospect—one who has a huge amount of potential to bolster a position that has been such a huge weakness for the club over the years—languishing at a level that he has clearly proven he is ready to move past is concerning.
Billy Eppler has already stated that the club is unlikely to have Álvarez serve solely as a designated hitter. The suggestion he makes in his rationale is that Álvarez’s long-term value to the club is behind the plate, and the team doesn’t want to do anything that might hinder his development there. One just hopes that he understands that making a prospect wait too long is another way of hindering their development—in addition to the potential success of the major league squad. Meanwhile, Mets fans will hope that when Álvarez does make it back to Queens—whenever that might be—he will be ready to live up to his sky-high potential, both with the bat and with the glove. Doing so would have an immeasurably large impact on the Mets, both in 2023 and beyond.