For a guy that many didn’t have a very high opinion of this time last year, Billy Eppler had a very strong year in his first season as the Mets’ GM. But the following quote from Eppler about Francisco Alvarez makes me glad he’s the GM and not the manager.

“As we’re constituted right now, we have Tomas Nido entering arbitration, we have James McCann under contract. How our roster sits right now, and the flexibility that some of the players bring that are on that 26-man roster, we could carry three catchers. That’s something that could happen.

“If you did, you’d want to kind of diversify their skillsets a little bit. So if one’s particularly offensive and another one’s particularly defensive, that’s a compliment you could do. So we could carry that largely because of players like [Luis] Guillorme and players like [Jeff] McNeil that can serve multipurpose.”

Source: Colin Martin, SNY

The Mets need to get more offensive production from the catcher’s spot and the easiest way to do that is to have Alvarez getting time there. Now, he doesn’t need to catch 140 games next year. But any configuration where he doesn’t catch at least 50 games means the Mets are putting themselves in a bad position.

There’s little doubt that Alvarez is not as strong defensively as either McCann or Nido. Equally not up for debate is that neither of those two are as strong offensively as Alvarez.

For most of the 20th Century, teams thought it was way more important for a shortstop to be good defensively than it was for him to be a major contributor to the offense. But few believe that here in 2022. Back in 1972, there were 22 shortstops to play at least 100 games and only one – Chris Speier -had an OPS+ in triple digits. Additionally, 13 had an OPS+ below 82, including Bud Harrelson, who posted a woeful 68.

Fast forward 50 years and we see that 14 of the 22 shortstops to play 100 games last year had a triple-digit OPS+ and only four shortstops had an OPS+ beneath 82.

It’s tougher to be a catcher than it is to be a shortstop. But the fact that it’s tougher shouldn’t make writing guys into the lineup with a 72 OPS+ (Nido) or a 55 OPS+ (McCann) 139 times – like what happened for the Mets in 2022 – as catchers an acceptable proposition when you have a backstop with the offensive potential of Mike Piazza hanging around your farm system.

If it was any other position on the field, Alvarez would be the frontrunner with no questions asked. Instead, here we’re proposing that he catch around 1/3 of the games as a way for him to get acclimated to playing the position in the majors.

And the thing that irked me about that quote from Eppler is that how often Alvarez catches should have absolutely nothing to do with the multipurpose ability of Guillorme and McNeil. The primary thing that should matter is the relationships that Alvarez can forge with the starters. Pulling an example out of thin air, if Max Scherzer is not comfortable with Alvarez as his catcher, then someone else should start in his place behind the plate when Scherzer pitches.

The only other consideration should be if Alvarez has throwing issues – and that’s far from a given – he shouldn’t start against teams that aggressively steal bases with their everyday lineup.

It’s not easy for teams to let a 21 year old to be their catcher in any capacity. In the last 50 years, there have only been six seasons where a player that young or younger caught 80 games in the majors. And three of those were by Ivan Rodriguez and two of those were by Butch Wynegar. The other person was Darrell Porter, who put up a 133 OPS+ for the Brewers in 1973 at age 21.

This century there have only been six catchers who caught at least 20 games in their age-21 or younger season, with Brian McCann’s 59 for the 2005 Braves being the highwater mark.

There’s a safety in doing things the way that other teams do. No one will criticize the Mets for not having Alvarez catch a lot at this age because essentially no team does that. But, as with all things, it’s not what other teams do that matters. No, what’s the most important thing is what makes sense for the Mets. And on this team, with two veterans who are offensive sinkholes as their catchers, they should look to find significant playing time for Alvarez, assuming he hits like we all think he will.

8 comments on “Billy Eppler on Francisco Alvarez making the team in 2023

  • ChrisF

    I need someone to help me understand why Alvarez, with all of 45 games and about 200 PA in AAA is somehow ready for the jump to making the big league roster.

    Sure, I get it, he’s hitting in the minors, but even a fast look at his AA-AAA record shows he dropped 40 points in BA and 100 point in OPS making the jump to AAA. This has the feeling of a rush job to fill a need, hope for a miracle that the jump to the Show doesnt further damage his production. He will play all of next year at age 21. Im all for the kids, but I’d sure like to see a longer demonstrated record in the upper minor leagues. He doesnt even have 500 PA adding AA and AAA.

    As for Baty and his 6 games and 26 PA at AAA, I honestly dont know what to say. Let these kids play baseball and make the mistakes and learn and lets not have that be in Queens.

    • Brian Joura

      Juan Soto
      PA in AAA – 0
      PA in AA – 35

      In 2015, Michael Conforto was promoted to the majors without a single PA in AAA and only 197 in AA.

      The vast majority of hitters need time at Triple-A. But not everyone does and I came up with two off the top of my head who didn’t. Alvarez is that type of hitter. His initial struggles at AAA last year were likely at least partially injury-related. When activated from the IL, he had a .362/.483/.596 line and in the majors it was a .786 OPS with a .143 BABIP. And if those samples are too small for your tastes, we can always look at his .916 OPS in 182 PA in 2019, followed by his .941 OPS in 400 PA in 2021, followed by his .922 OPS in 296 PA in Double-A.

      Alvarez can hit and there’s absolutely nothing in his profile that suggests he’ll struggle if he’s given consistent playing time in the majors. This isn’t the Rangers trying to pitch David Clyde in the majors straight out of high school. This is a guy with over a 1,000 PA in the minors with a lifetime .911 OPS. I refuse to believe that 200 Triple-A PA are going to magically make him a better hitter.

      In my opinion, the bat is absolutely ready. Is the glove? Maybe, maybe not. But none of us have seem him play as much as David Groveman and David doesn’t believe the glove will hold him back.

      • Steve_S.

        One thing: He threw out 38 percent of runners attempting to steal at Syracuse last year.

  • JamesTOB

    FWIW: I think the reason Eppler mentioned the versatility of Guillorme and McNeil was to point out that the makeup of the team wouldn’t be hindered by having a third catcher who would be taking up a spot that could have gone to another outfielder or infielder.
    I know you were being hypothetical in your comment about Scherzer, but if memory serves, it seems to me that when he was rehabbing in AAA, he said he liked throwing to Alvarez.

  • Metsense


  • NYM6986

    I like the concept of carrying three catchers with the extra thought that Alvarez should be the primary RH DH. We know he can hit and he will likely do so at the big league level. The Mets catchers also had their share of injuries so he’ll get some time behind the plate. It seems there can be plenty of bullpen sessions where Alvarez can improve on his skills and get more comfortable with the pitching staff. I’d still trade handling the pitching staff over a big bat. A generation ago the catcher hit 8th with exceptions for all the big names of yesteryear who swung huge bats from Berra to Bench to Fisk to the more modern years where catchers were more prominent hitters in many lineups. Even Jerry Grote, who hit around .270, was still in their for his D. If Alvarez was really ready to catch, I’d imagine they’d eat some of McCann’s salary and trade him. Lots to ponder this off-season.

    • Brian Joura

      We’ve reached a point where most teams won’t tolerate an offensive sinkhole playing SS. It will be a good day when we can say the same thing about catchers. If the choice is a good glove/poor hitter or a poor glove/good hitter – take the hitter. There’s no universe where Tomas Nido is a better all-around catcher than Willson Contreras, no matter that Contreras is a negative in the field behind the plate and Nido is in the top 20% defensively.

  • Metsense

    Eppler’s quote is very disturbing to me.
    Last season the catcher position was offensively sub par. Alvarez is the solution. He should start 50% at catcher and break camp. He should be also the DH against LHP and that problem would be also solved. In total, he would start around 135 games.
    The Mets don’t need three catchers on the active roster. McCann has little trade and Vientos doesn’t have a position. Nido, a nominated gold glove player and Vientos, a top prospect, would be more appealing for other teams in a trade.

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