Sports

‘I’m Going to Play My Game’: The Mets Call Up Francisco Álvarez

ATLANTA — Ahead of their biggest games of the season, the Mets have called in a new reinforcement. When the Mets (98-58) take on the Atlanta Braves (97-59) during a three-game series that begins on Friday and will essentially decide the winner of the National League East division crown, the Mets will have the top prospect in Major League Baseball at their disposal.

Francisco Álvarez, 20, a right-handed hitting catcher who is rated the No. 1 prospect in baseball by MLB.com, was called up before Friday’s game and was immediately inserted into the starting lineup as the designated hitter and hitting seventh. He won’t be able to ease into his major-league debut because his first assignment will be to face Max Fried, a left-handed starter who has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season.

“I’m going to do what I know how to do,” Álvarez said in Spanish before the game. “I’m going to play my game; I’m going to do my best to help the team win the upcoming games and be ready for whatever.”

For Álvarez, this admittedly happened fast. In spring training, he declared that his goal was to reach the major leagues this year. But when the Class AAA Syracuse season ended on Wednesday, Álvarez packed up his things and started the long drive from upstate New York to Florida, where he planned to spend a few days off with his parents and a friend who were in tow.

But somewhere around Greenville, S.C., on Thursday, Álvarez said he got a call from the Mets telling him that his dream was coming true. He said he pulled to the side of the highway, hugged his parents, who began crying, and was congratulated by his friend.

“It surprised me a lot,” he said. “You are always waiting for this moment. But I knew there could always be a chance. I knew I could do this and play here.”

The Mets are hoping to gauge what help, if any, Álvarez can provide from a spot in the lineup that has been middling all season. Using a combination of J.D. Davis, Daniel Vogelbach, Dominic Smith, Darin Ruf and others, Mets’ designated hitters entered Friday with 16 home runs and an on-base plus slugging percentage of .685, ranked 17th in M.L.B.

Ruf, a right-handed batter who was hitting .152 since the Mets acquired him from the San Francisco Giants in early August via trade, landed on the injured list on Friday with a neck strain, thus creating the opening for Álvarez.

Asked if six games were enough time for Álvarez to show if he can be a useful bat on a playoff roster, Mets Manager Buck Showalter said, “No. Nobody is that good. We’ll take what’s there. This is about tonight’s nine innings, and we think he has potential to help us. We’ll see. We can’t ask them to extend the season.” He added later: “He’s in a good place swinging the bat and we hope to take advantage of that.”

Álvarez, on the other hand, displayed his usual confidence when asked the same question about whether he had enough time to show his readiness: “Clearly, obviously.”

Although the Mets haven’t received much offense from their catchers (the group led by James McCann and Tomás Nido has combined for a .559 O.P.S., 26th in M.L.B. entering Friday), they have guided the team’s pitching staff well. The Mets’ earned run average of 3.58 was eighth best in baseball. Thus Álvarez, who is less refined behind the plate, may not be given a heavy load there.

In 2018, the Mets signed Álvarez out of his native Venezuela at 16 as an international amateur free agent for a franchise-record $2.7 million. In three seasons in the minor leagues (the 2020 campaign was wiped out by the pandemic), Álvarez shot through the Mets system and proved that his hitting abilities were legitimate.

In 2021, he posted a .272 batting average with 24 home runs. And this season, in 112 games between Class AA Binghamton and Syracuse, he hit .260 with 27 home runs, an .885 O.P.S. and an appearance at the M.L.B. Futures Game, the annual All-Star type contest that features the best prospects in baseball. He returned from an ankle injury in September feeling better.

“We got into a circumstance here where we had a need, and he’s been checking the boxes on what we needed developmentally,” Mets General Manager Billy Eppler said. “So, we gave him the opportunity.”

The Mets entered the showdown with the Braves with a one-game lead in the division and six games left overall in the regular season. Both teams have guaranteed themselves at least a wild-card spot in the playoffs, which begin next week.

The Mets, who have lined up their top three pitchers (Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt) for the series, can clinch their first division title since 2015 by sweeping the Braves and thus earn a bye during the first-round of the postseason. Should they take two games this weekend, the Mets would need just one more win or a Braves’ loss to claim the N.L. East.

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