The Mets announced Wednesday that they’ve optioned top catching prospect Francisco Alvarez to Triple-A Syracuse. The move has been widely expected, given the presence of both Omar Narvaez and Tomas Nido on the roster.
Alvarez, who made his MLB debut last year at just 20 years of age, underwent ankle surgery last October. While he was healthy enough to participate in spring training, he had a rough showing in camp, going 3-for-28 with a pair of walks and ten strikeouts in 31 trips to the plate. Alvarez turned 21 in November and has just 45 Triple-A games and last year’s five big league games under his belt, so it’s hardly surprising that the organizational preference is for him to continue to develop with regular reps behind the plate in Triple-A, rather than as part of a three-catcher setup with occasional DH reps at the MLB level.
Heading into the 2023 season, Alvarez is ranked among the game’s top 10 overall prospects at each of Baseball America, MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus, The Athletic and ESPN. He tore through Double-A pitching as a 20-year-old last season, hitting .277/.368/.553 with 18 home runs, a 12.2% walk rate and a 24% strikeout rate. Alvarez’s dipped a bit in Triple-A, where he was one of the league’s youngest players but still hit .234/.382/.443 with nine homers, a 17.1% walk rate and 26.3% strikeout rate in 199 trips to the plate. He went 2-for-12 with a homer and a double in his brief MLB debut.
The Mets still view Alvarez as their catcher of the future, and with good reason. He’s a legitimate power bat with a chance to stick behind the plate and develop into an average or better defender at a premium position. While many catchers are slower to develop than other prospects, Alvarez had success at the plate in the upper minors before even reaching his 21st birthday.
Following the offseason trade of James McCann to the Orioles, the Mets expect to use Narvaez as their primary catcher — at least early in the season. The veteran backstop is coming off a disappointing 2022 season in Milwaukee but hit a combined .266/.351/.403 in five seasons prior and has developed into one of the game’s better defenders at the position in recent years. Narvaez inked a two-year, $15MM deal with the Mets, but the second season of that contract is a player option, so with a good year it’s quite possible he’ll return to the open market in search of a larger and lengthier pact.
An ideal scenario for all parties would see Narvaez enjoy a strong season while Alvarez eventually forces his way onto the roster with a well-rounded performance in Syracuse. That’d give Alvarez the opportunity to ease into the big league picture later in the season while setting the stage for Narvaez to decline his player option and Alvarez to ascend to the starter’s role in 2024. The aforementioned Nido, meanwhile, can serve as a defensive-minded backup in both 2023 and 2024 — his final two seasons of club control.
Things don’t always go according to plan, of course, and it’s possible that injuries or poor performances from some members of this catching trio will necessitate an earlier recall for Alvarez or lead to Narvaez exercising his player option after a shaky year. As things stand, however, it appears likely that Alvarez will finish out the 2023 season with less than a full year of big league service time, meaning he’d still be controllable for six full seasons — all the way through 2029. He picked up six days of MLB service in 2022, so he’d need an additional 166 days on the Major League roster or injured list in order to reach a full year of service and accelerate his free-agent trajectory by a year.