Francisco Alvarez has made his case to stay on 26-man roster as Mets deal with roster crunch
CHICAGO — Francisco Alvarez has stated his case.
The Mets’ impending roster crunch at the catcher spot has thrust the club’s prized rookie backstop into the spotlight. But his recent play deserves the spotlight as well. Over his last 10 games, the 21-year-old Alvarez has hit .265 with a 1.036 OPS, four home runs and two doubles. He has six homers since he was called up to take the place of Omar Narvaez on the roster April 4.
“He’s turned into a pro on us,” said Mets hitting coach Jeremy Barnes.
It’s not just his play at the plate, his play behind it has improved greatly. His pop times have improved, his framing has improved and he’s done a good job blocking balls in the dirt. Pitchers have liked throwing to him. Last week in Washington, Max Scherzer told him he was happy to have finally earned a win with him.
“I was telling Alvy, ‘I finally got you a good one,’” Scherzer said. “I feel like I can execute and we can finally start getting on a good page together.”
Trying to develop talent in the Major Leagues isn’t ideal and the Mets had previously planned to start him in Triple-A to further that development but they were forced to bring him up after Narvaez strained his calf during the second series of the season in Milwaukee. There were some rough moments.
Alvarez wasn’t the most patient hitter early in the season. He swung at high fastballs and he chased pitches out of the zone. For all of the hype surrounding him and the big numbers he put up in Double-A and Triple-A in 2022, he was relatively inexperienced and it showed.
“People underestimate the jump from Triple-A to the big leagues,” Barnes said. “Low-A to High-A is twice as hard as Double-A. Double-A to Triple-A is twice as hard. The big leagues from Triple-A is like 10 times as hard. It’s just such a big jump. Him Brett Baty and Mark Vientos — with all these guys, they’re so talented but their weaknesses weren’t as exposed as much down there. And that’s not a knock because everyone up here has weaknesses. Once they got up here, it was a little bit of a punch in the mouth. Like sometimes you have quick success and then over time, the [weaknesses] show up. But they were able to point out their flaws pretty quickly.”
But the one thing that stands out about Alvarez is that he’s proactive in wanting to get better. The coaches rave about his work ethic, his determination and the time he spends dedicating himself to working in the cages, working with catching coach Glenn Sherlock in the bullpen and looking at video.
Alvarez went to the hitting coaches right away with an eagerness to put in work and improve. The work may not have paid off right away, as the rookie still hit just .194 over his first 12 games (37 plate appearances), but there was still progress made.
“We had a conversation, and this is all a testament to who like the type of kid this is,” Barnes said. “We were like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to make changes. We need to change our approach, we need to maybe we need to tighten up the swing a little bit.’ And it was just like he didn’t even bat an eye.”
The Mets shortened Alvarez’s powerful swing. They made a few other minor tweaks, but the foundation was there.
“That gets me the most excited watching him moving forward,” Barnes said. “If something isn’t going well, he has the mindset where he can go make the change. He’s proven that he is able to make a change like that at this level.”
Alvarez started recognizing how he was being pitched and he learned how to slow the game down. The emotion he had in his earlier at-bats is gone.
“He’s had more unemotional at-bats,” said manager Buck Showalter. “His want-to is through the roof.”
Alvarez had a two-run blast Wednesday night at Wrigley Field to briefly give the Mets a lead against the Chicago Cubs. The power was obvious in the way he drove the ball right through the Lake Michigan winds, which were blowing in from the outfield making life difficult for right-handed hitters.
“I’ve just been refining my plan and working a lot with Jeremy and the rest of the hitting coaches,” he said through a translator. “I think that’s helped me a lot.”
The Mets have a problem on their hands with five catchers they would like to keep, but only two with options: Michael Perez and Alvarez. Tomas Nido came off the injured list Thursday and the Mets designated Gary Sanchez for assignment to make room on the roster. Narvaez began his rehab assignment with High-A Brooklyn. The traffic jam at home plate has been well documented.
It’s out of the hands of Alvarez. He has done all he can do to keep his spot on the 26-man roster.