Opening Day is only a week away and, on Wednesday, the New York Mets finalized one of their biggest spring training position battles. Top catcher prospect Francisco Álvarez was optioned to Triple-A, the team announced. That means Tomás Nido and Omar Narváez will handle catching duties, and suggests Darin Ruf will get DH at-bats against left-handers.
"I hope so, in some ways," Mets manager Buck Showalter told SNY when asked about Álvarez possibly spending the entire year in the minors. "That means that we're doing real well and our catchers are healthy and doing well. I hope that's the case. He's got a chance to be called up in September. Anything else I said would be promoting the failure or the health of one of the guys that we have. And we like our two guys. They're in the top seven or eight of catching in baseball. We're lucky to have both of them. I hope at some point Francisco is as good as they are."
Álvarez, 21, slashed .260/.374/.511 with 27 home runs in 112 minor-league games split between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He made his MLB debut very late in the year, going 2 for 12 (.167) with a double and a home run in five games. Our R.J. Anderson ranked Álvarez the game's No. 3 prospect earlier this spring. Here's his write-up:
Álvarez reached the majors late last season when the Mets were seeking another capable right-handed bat for their postseason run. He didn't fare well in five regular season games, but ultimately it doesn't matter. Álvarez has big-time raw power and he's improved his defense enough to bet on him sticking at catcher. Strikeouts are always going to be part of his game, and he's been pull-heavy in the minors, a combination that may limit his batting average upside. Even if it does, there's more than enough pop-and-walk potential here for him to become an offensive force.
The righty-hitting Nido and lefty-hitting Narváez form a natural platoon behind the plate. Every 21-year-old catcher can use a little more defensive seasoning, and for the Mets, it came down to Álvarez working on his defense in Triple-A or contributing to the big league team with his bat. They opted for the former and a longer term approach.
"What he hits, I don't really care what he hits," Showalter told SNY. "I just want him to continue to improve defensively."
Ruf had a miserable stint after joining the Mets at the deadline last year, going 10 for 66 (.152) without a home run. He has a recent history of mashing lefties, however, so New York will give him another look this season. Ruf and the lefty hitting Daniel Vogelbach are expected to platoon at the DH position.
Despite their active offseason, the Mets made just one new addition to the offense: Tommy Pham. Carlos Correa was set to be their big bat upgrade, though the team would not sign off on his physical. The Mets finished sixth in runs per game last year but only 16th in home runs, and Pete Alonso accounted for 23 percent of the team's long balls.
It's fair to say the Mets have a little bit of a power deficiency, something Álvarez could help with later in the season. Now that he has been optioned down, Álvarez must spend the first 10 days of the regular season in the minors before he can be recalled unless he replaces an injured player.