What to expect from Francisco Álvarez

September 30th, 2022

When you’re searching for your first World Series title since 1986 and your offense could use a jolt of energy just in time for the playoffs, who you gonna call? The No. 1 overall prospect in the game.

The Mets promoted MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall talent Francisco Álvarez to the Majors for the first time on Friday and slotted him in at DH and batting seventh. The 20-year-old backstop joins New York just in time for a big three-game weekend series in Atlanta as the Mets hold a one-game lead over the defending World Series champion Braves in the NL East.

Though he’s a catcher, the right-handed slugger is expected mainly to compete for designated hitter at-bats in his first look with the Major League club, particularly against left-handed pitching. Darin Ruf (.152/.216/.197 in 28 games since his trade from the Giants) and Mark Vientos (4-for-28, 10 strikeouts) were both eyed to serve similar roles but haven’t done enough to help the cause down the stretch, prompting the youngster's arrival. Álvarez slashed .315/.424/.595 over 132 plate appearances against lefties in 2022, compared to .240/.355/.480 in 363 PA against his fellow righties.

The Venezuela native heads to the Majors on a bit of a hot streak. Álvarez missed more than two weeks in August and September with loose bodies in his right ankle, but after returning to the Triple-A Syracuse lineup on Sept. 11, he slashed .362/.483/.596 with three homers and 10 walks in his final 13 games of the season.

With his 21st birthday not coming until Nov. 19, Álvarez becomes the youngest player to see the Majors this year, beating out the Rockies' Ezequiel Tovar by three months. In fact, the catcher was the only 20-year-old to get more than 100 plate appearances at Triple-A in 2022, matching a feat accomplished by former fellow No. 1 overall prospects Wander Franco and Riley Greene last year.

From a pure tools standpoint, the right-handed slugger possesses easy plus-plus raw power that ranks as some of the best in all of the Minor Leagues. Mets manager Buck Showalter noted it all the way back in Spring Training, calling one of Álvarez’s Florida blasts “a real big boy home run right there.”

Álvarez didn’t stop there with the power. Despite the missed time, he ranked fifth among Minor League catchers with 27 homers between Syracuse and Double-A Binghamton, where he began the season as the youngest player on an Eastern League Opening Day roster. His 51 Minor League blasts over the last two seasons are second most at his position -- a fact even more incredible considering he's been at least 2 1/2 years younger than league average at every stop in that span.

He generates that 70-grade pop with a whiplike swing, elite bat speed and immense strength for his size at 5-foot-10. Like many sluggers, Álvarez can be prone to the strikeout, fanning in 24.8 percent of his plate appearances in the upper Minors. But he combats that with a good approach that led to a healthy 14.1 percent walk rate as well, putting the eye he generated as a catcher to good use in his own trips to the plate.

The biggest questions with Álvarez come on the defensive side. His framing has been below-average for much of his time in the Minors, though the need to challenge his bat has often outweighed the desire to let his glove get to league level. Mets officials have praised Álvarez’s diligence in working on his framing and blocking to make him at least an average defensive catcher in time. His plus arm, which has never been in question, gives him at least one present defensive asset.

By calling him up when they are, however, the Mets are hoping to minimize the present concerns of their top prospect, while maximizing what could make him so special over the long term.

A catcher with elite power and enough defense to play every day should sound familiar in Queens. Mike Piazza got the Mets close to a ring with playoff runs in 1999 and 2000. Álvarez doesn’t need to be Hall of Fame-quality straight away, but even a fraction of his immense ceiling could be enough to put the Mets on the brink of their first title in 36 years.