On Monday, the New York Mets designated long-time catcher Tomás Nido for assignment, not only ending his career in New York but also signaling that the job behind the plate firmly belongs to top prospect Francisco Alvarez.
After scuffling in his first 12 games in the big leagues, hitting .194 and striking out 13 times, Alvarez seemed to find his footing in May. The young catcher hit .292 in 21 games in May, clobbering seven home runs, driving in 17 runs, and scoring 11 of his own. He also cut down on his strikeouts, fanning just 15 times in those 21 games.
The success has not only gotten Mets fans excited, but some of New York’s veteran players are starting to recognize what the 21-year-old brings to the table as well.
“He just has instincts,” said Mets ace Max Scherzer. “You can never teach instincts. You either have it or you don’t, and he’s kind of got that ‘it factor.'”
“He’s showing you, you know, little spurts of what he can do. Like the other night when [Adam Ottavino] was throwing, like that quick throw down to second, like that was Alvy [Alvarez], you know. It’s little stuff like that, that you see from him.”
In addition to the instincts, Scherzer is impressed by the way his young catcher approaches the game.
“He’s got a good head on his shoulders too,” the right-hander added. “I mean, he’s a young kid who’s wanting to learn and, you know, we’ve got a great clubhouse with enough veterans here to learn from and he’s doing a great job of that.”
Perhaps one of the most important skills that Alvarez is learning at the big league level is how to call a game. When catching for a pitching staff that includes future Hall of Famers like Scherzer and Justin Verlander, it’s crucial that Alvarez has the confidence of his pitchers. That goes beyond just blocking pitches or handling the bat.
As Scherzer highlighted after his start last week, pitch sequencing is one of the more underrated aspects of a pitcher’s performance in a game. Catchers have to learn how to properly set up hitters by using certain pitches early in the count to allow for subsequent pitches to get chases out of the zone or freeze a batter.
“I’ve got so many off-speed pitches it makes the hitters worry about what they have to guard against so my fastball plays up because of that,” Scherzer explained. “That’s where we keep the hitters off balance and never know where it’s going and pitch to location.”
In order for Scherzer to be as impactful as he wants to be without having the elite velocity that he used to have, he needs to have confidence that he and his catcher can agree on the sequencing. That seems to be rounding into form with him and Alvarez.
“We’re getting the rhythm of that and how we use a PitchCom,” he explained. “We’re only using the PitchCom only; we’re not using the fingers. And that’s a big change for me. You know, it’s so foreign to just be on PitchCom, but, you know, working with him we’re in a good rhythm because of that.”
Not only are they in a good rhythm together, but the veteran is allowing to rookie to take the lead.
“I want Alvy to call the game,” Scherzer said. “I don’t want to have to override him. I don’t want to have to call the pitch unless I really know it, and so, you know, that’s where we’re kind of getting in a rhythm.”
If Alvarez is able to win over a notoriously difficult-to-please veteran like Scherzer, it certainly bodes well for his ability to handle the Mets’ pitching staff not only for the rest of this season but for years to come.
“As good as he’s doing right now,” Scherzer continued, “he just needs to continue to learn and continue to get experienced and then he’ll get continue to get better. Now, there’s still little things in his game that he can get better at.”
One of those things for Alvarez to continue to get better at is the way that he handles the running game.
Despite Scherzer’s mention of the Mets rookie throwing behind the runner two weeks ago, Alvarez has struggled to keep runners from taking extra bags this season. Heading into Tuesday night’s game, Alvarez has thrown out just five of 43 baserunners in steal situations. That means he’s throwing out just 11.6% of runners, a number the Mets would certainly hope he can improve upon as the season goes on.
Offensively, Alvarez has gone back to struggling a bit with the bat in June, going hitless in the first four games of the month; however, those kinds of ups and downs are commonplace in a long and taxing MLB season, and even more so for a rookie.
However, according to Scherzer, Alvarez has exactly the kind of mindset to handle that kind of professional rollercoaster.
“As long as he has that attitude, that he wants to get better every single day, he’s gonna be a great player.”
The Mets certainly seem to agree, and now it’s time to see if they’re all correct.