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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Small Step If Not a Giant Leap

Francisco Alvarez went up and got it. The pitch, from Tyler Rogers, was measured at 3.87 feet off the ground. It looked higher. It flew higher. It flew over Oracle Park’s left field fence, which is eight feet high. After going up, getting it, and sending it for an aerial ride, Alvarez had every right to feel at least as tall as the wall he’d just cleared. Francisco in San Francisco had broken through some barriers. His first home run of the season. The first homer of the season for any Mets catcher. The first extra-base hit of the season for any Mets catcher. Alvarez, Tomás Nido, Omar Narváez, Duffy Dyer — you name them, none of them had done anything more than single. And they hadn’t singled all that much as New York Mets since 2023 began. When 2023 began, Alvarez was a Syracuse Met for the moment, a half-baked Met a moment later, rushed out of the oven lukewarm because Narvaez had gotten hurt. The Met prospect of Met prospects was back with the big club before he was ready, not unlike the scenario that developed at the end of last September, save for the overtones of desperation that enveloped the Mets as they traveled to Atlanta.

Little this April has alleviated the impression that young Francisco isn’t fully honed to face big league hurlers. The eye test says he’s looked lost. The numbers suggest the eyes are operating 20/20. As Sunday night’s game got going, a friend messaged me: “I saw something I’ve never seen before. When they showed Alvarez’s stats, he was -29 OPS+ I’ve never seen anyone with a negative OPS+.” No, you don’t detect that kind of stat that often, especially with pitchers having exited the statistical column in question. In a nutshell, 100 is an average OPS+. Position players aren’t doing very well relative to the rest of the league if their on-base percentage and their slugging percentage taken together spits out an OPS+ in positive double-digits.

To be showing what Alvarez was showing entering Sunday evening, you’d usually have to be somebody who isn’t expected to hit at all. Last season, the Mets had four bit players who produced an OPS+ that started with a minus-sign. If you’re more than a bit player and your OPS+ languishes beneath zero, you’re eventually not going to play even a bit. Two (Deven Marrero and Travis Blankenhorn) combined for nine plate appearances, the epitome of a small sample size. Two (Terrance Gore and Ender Inciarte) mostly pinch-ran. Nine years ago, when Bartolo Colon took swings on a regular basis and his batting helmet flew off his head nearly as often, his OPS+ over 69 plate appearances was -77. Two years later, in the season he homered and generally appeared competent with a bat in his hands, Bart had jacked it up to -30 in 65 PAs. It wasn’t going to tame the universal DH tide, but you can’t say Colon didn’t improve.

There’s hope for everybody. There’s hope for Francisco Alvarez. There’s hope, there’s expectation, and there’s the acknowledgement that, at 21 and claiming fewer than 50 games of Triple-A experience, the kid is going to go through this phase of his major league offensive life as undercooked and overmatched. He blended both states, grounding into a one-out bases-loaded double play on a three-two pitch from Giants starter Ross Stripling to kill a Met rally in the second inning. Somebody’s working somebody when the count goes full. One potential ball from giving up a run or more, the pitcher had this hitter right where he wanted him.

Two innings later, Francisco again came to bat with the bases loaded, again against Stripling, this time with nobody out. The Mets operate with a short bench. It was early. The pitcher was obviously in trouble. “Can’t we pinch-hit here?” streaked across my mind. I’ll be as patient as possible with a 21-year-old top-ranked prospect in the medium to long haul. In the situation that existed at that instant, the Mets trailing by one and me having been reminded how an OPS+ can plunge below zero, I had no patience. I didn’t really think the ramifications or logistics through. I just wanted Francisco Alvarez to not bat with the bases loaded.

This time, Stripling had Alvarez in a one-two hole before striking him out swinging. Gabe Kapler proceeded to change his pitcher (Rogers for Stripling), Buck Showalter proceeded to pinch-hit for his next batter (Mark Canha for Luis Guillorme) and, in a matter of minutes, helped along by an Old Friend (clank, clank, clank went Michael Conforto’s defensive folly), the Mets turned what had been a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. They were ahead by one in spite of Alvarez.

In the bottom of the fourth, they were behind by one again. In the top of the sixth, Alvarez was still being given the benefit of every doubt, though letting your starting catcher bat with two out and nobody on and only one catcher on the bench with another three innings to go isn’t an extravagant vote of confidence. It’s just a baseball game. It’s ordinary managerial behavior. What was to be lost by another Alvarez groundout or strikeout?

We didn’t find out because this time Francisco found his pitch, up in his eyes. Alvarez is listed at 5-foot-10. If the pitch was 3.87 feet off the ground, it wasn’t really up in his eyes, but we’re going with the eye test here. It was, at the very least, a high strike (depending on home plate umpire Roberto Ortiz’s capricious interpretation of the zone). Wherever it was, the rookie who probably shouldn’t be engaged in a major league timeshare this month, went up and got it. That’s what he’ll have to do on occasion. Go up and get it, literally and metaphorically. The Mets did the “up” part when they promoted him. Their other healthy MLB-experienced catcher at Syracuse, Michael Perez, lingers outside the 40-man roster. When Narvaez got hurt, the big club itself was the one out of options.

Alvarez, who came up when the Mets arrived at Citi Field for their Home Opener, might fit better in his road uniform, because he’s existed in a gray area. Not exactly the starter. Not exactly the backup. Not exactly who you want in the box with the bases loaded. Not exactly who you want to see being kept in reserve at this stage of his career. This stage, incidentally, is still pretty larval.

Francisco’s homer knotted the score at four, which was great. The Giants unknotted the score to make it 5-4 in the eighth. Less great. Alvarez led off the ninth. Camilo Doval struck him out on four pitches. He also struck out Mark Canha and grounded out Brandon Nimmo. It took a team effort to lose the final game of an otherwise satisfactory (7-3) road trip. Tylor Megill wasn’t sharp the first four innings. Drew Smith surrendered that go-ahead run late. Showalter said something about preserving David Robertson and Adam Ottavino for another day instead of deploying one of them to keep things tied at four in the eighth. Neither veteran pitched at all in this four-game series, so we’re left to wonder if their experienced arms are altogether OK. Experience isn’t always everything.

Promise is something to behold. Alvarez has promise. Brett Baty has promise. He has yet to light it up, either, in his second unplanned go-round. The short video clips from Syracuse are so tantalizing when we see guys like these (a cohort that includes Mark Vientos and Ronny Mauricio) clear fences and circle bases. We tend to forget our minor league stars are facing minor league pitching. We don’t ask for details as we dream on our kids. We and they inevitably wake up to pitchers who are more likely to know what they’re doing than the fellas in the International League. Baty’s OPS+, for the moment, sits at a scant 45. Alvarez’s has surged to 11.

That’s for the moment. Nobody except the wholly unreasonable is asking these kids to carry this club. This club carries itself pretty well as is. Carrying their share of the load will come with time. Our patience is appreciated if not always forthcoming.

7 comments to Small Step If Not a Giant Leap

  • Seth

    I’m less concerned about Alvarez than I am about the starting rotation. The sad thing, and I’m not sure how this happened, is that we have let many serviceable pitchers walk recently. Think about this from recent Mets rotations, pitchers currently thriving for other teams:


    There’s a competent rotation right there. What happened?

  • Ken K. in NJ

    In the top of the 4th, I was following the game on my phone because I was supposed to be engaged in pleasant outdoor front stoop neighborly conversation with a couple on my block. But you know, Sunday Night Mets.

    Alvarez out on strikes with the bases loaded. Ok, yep, figured that was gonna happen. Wait, what? Canha pinch hitting for Guillorme?? Crap, said I to myself, while smiling at a discussion about the house going up at the end of the block, Guillorme must be hurt.

    I actually scrolled back on the pitch by pitch account to look for “injury delay” or some other clarification of what was going on.

    Nope. Buck pinch hit for Guillorme but not Alvarez in the 4th inning with the bases loaded.


  • John Farrell

    I remain an Alvarez doubter. He ‘s just another Vogue I think. But you make a good case. I’d far rather have Guillorme as DH for righties if Alvarez is also in the lineup.

  • eric1973

    For reasons easily detectable, the only guy I root for in this ex-Mets rotation is Bassitt.

    All our guys are out right now, and to paraphrase Roger Angell:
    1987 Redux (first time I ever heard that word, BTW)

    Peterson stinks, I like him and wish he were better. Maybe thumbscrews in lieu of prison time, and I like the house arrest idea. Maybe if he’s carrying a water bottle, they won’t let him in the stadium.

  • open the gates

    I’m not so worried about Francisco Alvarez. Not yet.

    I still remember in ’83, when Darryl Strawberry came up and had perhaps the worst first two weeks of any prospect I’d ever seen. Wound up winning Rookie of the Year, as memory serves. Maybe Alvarez just needs to get his sea legs.

    On the other hand, I seem to remember using the same rationale about a young Fernando Martinez. And a young Lastings Milledge. And a young Ryan Thompson.

    The encouraging thing about Martinez is that he struggled at every level before dominating. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll do the same in the major leagues, but it sets an encouraging precedent. Patience is required here.