Early returns on Francisco Alvarez’s defense in 2023

Miami Marlins v New York Mets
Miami Marlins v New York Mets / Jim McIsaac/GettyImages

The New York Mets were faced with a catcher dilemma when James McCann’s four-year deal did not go according to plan. The result was that Francisco Alvarez, the Mets highly touted catching prospect and one of the most heralded prospects in baseball, received the callup to the majors sooner than expected.

Like many prospects who get called up to the big leagues before they are ready, Alvarez has struggled to hit in the early going. However, if there is something that the team should be encouraged by when it comes to Alvarez’s performance, it is his improved defense behind the plate.

During the most recent road trip to the West Coast that saw the Mets play the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Francisco Giants, Alvarez had the opportunity to start a few games behind the plate, and he showed glimpses that he is becoming a better defensive catcher.

Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez’s strong arm is his strength when fielding his position.

Alvarez displayed on multiple occasions that he can expertly handle bunting and field his position well when the opposition tries to bunt their way on. This was apparent in the series against the Athletics. In the ninth inning of one of the games, Alvarez made consecutive nice fielding plays when two Athletics, Esteury Ruiz and Tony Kemp, attempted to use their speed to get on first. In both instances, Alvarez was quick to pounce on the ball in front of the plate and deliver two strikes to first, making sure neither runner got on base.

Alvarez also has a strong arm, which has also been on display in the majors. There have been several instances thus far where he has gotten very close to gunning down speedy runners at second base. When he was in Triple-A, Alvarez threw out 37.5% of base stealers. Considering that the league average hovers around 21.5%, it is clear that Alvarez is more than capable of being above-average in this field.

Defense was a big focus in Spring Training for Alvarez. In particular, Alvarez needs to continue to improve his pitch framing ability to steal strikes for his pitchers. So far in 2023, Alvarez ranks around the league average in pitch framing. If he sustains this trend over the course of the season, it would represent that he is getting better as a defensive catcher.

The Mets do not need Alvarez to be an elite defensive catcher. Given his offensive skills, the team anticipates his bat will come around eventually. All Alvarez needs to show is competency behind the plate with framing and blocking, and if he manages to do that, it will lead to him receiving increased playing time as the season progresses.