Inbox: Will Álvarez make '23 Opening Day roster?
Happy holidays from all of us at MLB.com! While we wait for the winter freeze to thaw, it’s time again to dig into the mailbag. Thanks to all who submitted questions via Twitter.
Do you think Francisco Álvarez will be sent to Triple-A to start the season? -- @acm1717
This won’t be a popular answer, but I do. There are multiple reasons for the Mets to push Álvarez back to Syracuse, and their recent acquisition of Omar Narváez suggests they’re planning on it.
Were Álvarez not so raw behind the plate, this would be a much more complicated discussion. But I’ve spoken to folks both inside and outside the organization who seriously doubt Álvarez is ready to start five-plus games per week at catcher. Using Álvarez at DH instead -- while tempting, given his offensive upside -- wouldn’t do him or the Mets much long-term good. Álvarez is most valuable if he can become an everyday catcher, which he’ll have a tough time accomplishing without more Minor League seasoning.
To be clear: Álvarez's service time isn’t the top priority here, even though the Mets will ensure themselves an extra year of control over him if they keep him in the Minors a few additional weeks. It’s worth noting also that none of this is set in stone; there’s a path for Álvarez to make the team if he’s simply too good in Spring Training to ignore, like Pete Alonso was in 2019. But as we sit here in late December, I’d be surprised to see Álvarez on the Opening Day roster.
I’m just as confident he’ll be a major factor before the end of the season.
What is the plan with David Peterson and Tylor Megill (assuming Carlos Carrasco doesn’t get moved)? Will they have a chance to win a starting spot, will one or both of them be in the bullpen, or are they expected to open the season in Triple-A? -- @Manach_38
Mets officials will remind you, and rightfully so, that no team goes through a season using only five starters. Even if the signings of Justin Verlander and Kodai Senga ultimately force Peterson and Megill to Syracuse on Opening Day, neither is likely to stay there long. Remember, Peterson didn’t make the 2022 Opening Day roster, and he wound up starting 19 games regardless.
Already, general manager Billy Eppler is talking about helping Senga, who’s accustomed to throwing once per week in Japan, acclimate to the Majors by giving him extra rest when necessary. It’s similarly worth noting that Verlander will be 40 on Opening Day and Max Scherzer will be 39 in July. The idea of inserting an extra starter into the rotation from time to time is a smart one that the team has already discussed.
There’s also a real possibility that an injury will happen in Spring Training, or that Peterson or Megill will beat out Carrasco for a starting job. Considering the Mets are in win-now mode, they’re more likely than ever to take the best five north with them -- full stop.
Of the rookies we saw make their debut last year, which do you think has the best shot at making the Opening Day roster? Which do you think will be in the starting lineup? -- Paul_Stamp1
Until the Mets signed Carlos Correa to a 12-year contract, the clear answer here was Baty, who could have won the third-base job over Eduardo Escobar (much as he did late last summer before a wrist injury ended his season). If Baty isn’t traded, he’ll still have a chance to crack the roster, but now it may have to be in left field -- a position that’s unnatural to him. Mark Vientos could also make the team as an extra right-handed bat, but his skill set would be redundant with both Escobar and Darin Ruf on the bench.
That leaves Álvarez as the most likely candidate to make the team and, as noted above, I’m skeptical. It’s possible none of the three break camp in the Majors.
Do you think either Jeff McNeil or Pete Alonso get extended before hitting free agency? -- @DrShein
This has been a popular question, for good reason: McNeil and Alonso are two homegrown rocks of the lineup. Had the Mets pursued extensions with either of them years ago, the club almost certainly would have come out ahead on both contracts.
But the Mets didn’t do that, and now the equation is more complicated with both players under team control for merely two more seasons. Alonso no longer has any reason to sign a below-market contract; he’ll hit free agency at age 29 and can score a megadeal if he maintains his production until then. McNeil has a bit more incentive as a soon-to-be-31-year-old who broke into the big leagues relatively late, but the Mets -- given McNeil’s body type and aggressive style of play -- may view that situation with a bit more caution.
In short, I’m skeptical the team will commit to either player now. Over the past two months, the front office has been so consumed with free agency that there hasn’t been time for much else. Owner Steve Cohen has already spent more than $800 million to create a winning roster. There’s no pressing reason for him to open his checkbook even wider for a pair of players already under team control, regardless of how popular those players might be.
What pitchers do the Mets have coming up through the system that they are most excited about? Who will be replacing Max Scherzer and Verlander when they’re gone? -- @manoverboard_92
The Mets have an improving farm system to be sure, but one that is heavily skewed toward position players, with Álvarez, Baty, Ronny Mauricio, Alex Ramirez and Mark Vientos leading the way. Their top two prospects from the 2022 Draft, Kevin Parada and Jett Williams, are both position players.
That’s not to say there’s a complete lack of high-end pitchers in the system; it’s just that the bulk of them have never played above Single-A. That’s why the Mets were aggressive in signing starters to free agent contracts this winter, hoping the Verlanders and Sengas of the world can hold things down while the pitching side of the farm system matures.
To answer your question more directly, the five pitching prospects I’ve heard the most about recently are Matt Allan, Calvin Ziegler, Blade Tidwell, Dominic Hamel and Mike Vasil. Allan has been in the system the longest, but he underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2021 to throw a wrench in his development timeline. Still, Allan remains well-regarded in the organization and could push his way to the Majors as soon as 2024.
Ziegler struggled with control in his professional debut, but possesses as high a ceiling as anyone on the farm. Tidwell, the Mets’ second-rounder last July, is already MLB Pipeline’s highest-ranked Mets pitching prospect. Finally, Vasil and Hamel are both 2021 Draft picks who acquitted themselves well in A ball last summer and should be about ready for an upper Minors test.