Álvarez on cusp, 'ready' for MLB debut

February 18th, 2022

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- At age 20, Francisco Álvarez is, realistically, more than a year away from the Majors. Álvarez has never played above Class A ball. He has amassed fewer than 600 plate appearances as a professional.

He is also one of the more talented prospects in professional baseball, one of the Mets’ most dynamic homegrown talents in recent memory and, without doubt, the exact type of player who could defy such expectations. Asked Friday about his hopes for the upcoming season, Álvarez replied simply: “Make it to the bigs. Make it to the bigs. That’s the goal.”

“He’s coming,” manager Buck Showalter said later. “That young of age, to be at the development he’s at, that’s exciting for all of us.”

Álvarez reported to Clover Park this week for a special Minor League camp bringing together some of the elite prospects in the organization. Seemingly stress-free, the talented catcher spent Friday morning joking around with teammates during stretches, playing catch in a blue-and-orange hoodie, and hitting in an indoor cage. When he saw a group of reporters standing by watching, he wandered over and introduced himself as “Álvarez,” shaking hands with each of them. Without anyone asking, he then walked off to find an interpreter so he could converse further.

This eager-to-please attitude is part of what has endeared Álvarez, who would be an elite prospect even if he didn’t possess plus makeup. Strong of body with a powerful lower half, Álvarez has always profiled as an elite hitter. In his brief tour of rookie and Class A ball, Álvarez proved it, batting .285/.394/.539 with 31 homers in 141 games. An important test will come at some point this summer, when Álvarez steps into the box against upper-Minors pitching for the first time. Few doubt he will succeed; it was just last spring that, at age 19, Álvarez smoked an opposite-field homer off Jacob deGrom during live batting practice.

“He’s got a unique skillset,” Showalter said. “The separator with catchers a lot of times is what kind of offensive impact they can have.”

Of more pressing concern is Álvarez’s future behind the plate. If he hits well as a designated hitter, as he did in a part-time role last season, Álvarez can be a big leaguer for many years to come. If he hits at an elite level as a competent defensive catcher, Álvarez can be a superstar, one of the best players in the game. (The entirely premature and unfair comparison, which Álvarez has drawn frequently, is to Hall of Famer Mike Piazza.)

To that end, Mets coaches have worked tirelessly with Álvarez to improve his mobility and athleticism behind the plate. Showalter is eager to have Álvarez link up this spring with new bench coach and catching instructor Glenn Sherlock, who has tutored Jorge Posada, Brad Ausmus, Miguel Montero and many other successful catchers. Piazza might even have a word if he makes his usual spring visit to Port St. Lucie.

“I’m really working on my setup, my stance, where I can be comfortable blocking,” Álvarez said. “Now I’m thinking about that and just working to be another catcher in the big leagues for years.”

If Álvarez succeeds, his future in Flushing will be assured. Although James McCann is under contract for three more seasons, he is coming off a disappointing first year with the Mets. A strong 2022 campaign would put Álvarez in the conversation for a ’23 debut no matter how fully McCann bounces back, but especially if he continues to leave the door ajar.

Álvarez, as Showalter noted, is coming. He’s not 16 anymore -- not the raw-but-talented $2.9 million player who signed out of Venezuela in 2018. He’s a legitimate blue-chip prospect now. The future is his to write. And while Álvarez’s goal of a 2022 trip to the Majors may be out of his hands, he intends to make the Mets’ choices as difficult as possible.

“I mean, it’s not my decision,” Álvarez said. “But I’m going to work hard. Whenever my time comes, I’m ready.”