ATLANTA — Can baseball’s No. 1 prospect play his way from the minors to the Mets’ playoff roster in the final week of the season?
“Yes, obviously,” Francisco Alvarez said in Spanish before his major league debut.
The confident Friday call-up will not have much time, especially because Max Fried, whom he faced Friday, might have been the last opposing lefty starter the Mets see in the regular season.
Called upon because of his powerful righty bat after the Mets placed Darin Ruf on the IL with a neck strain, Alvarez, the hyped, 20-year-old catcher of the future, went 0-for-4 in the Mets’ series-opening, 5-2 loss to the Braves at Truist Park on Friday night.
Twice Alvarez took such mighty hacks he flung his bat behind him, the second of which was his final swing of the game. The Mets loaded the bases in the ninth inning against Atlanta closer Kenley Jansen. Alvarez, who represented the go-ahead run, swung hard three times and struck out.
“It’s super rare that that happens,” Alvarez said about the bat-flings through translator Alan Suriel. “This whole season it only happened one other time.”
This whole season, he had not seen major league pitching. The designated hitter appeared swing-happy in his first taste of the big leagues, swinging at the first pitch he saw and grounding into a double play in the second inning. He added another ground out and a fly out before his ninth-inning strikeout against Jansen.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done,” Alvarez said, “but I feel like I belong here.”
It is remarkable that Alvarez is here. His minor league season had finished Wednesday, so he, his parents and a friend packed up a car and drove from Syracuse to Miami, where he has family.
On Thursday night — on the road about 13 hours away from central New York, in Greenville, S.C. — his phone buzzed. Farm director Kevin Howard was on the other line to deliver the news the 20-year-old had waited 20 years to receive.
There were tears and hugs and excitement and surprise — but only to an extent. The young slugger always has felt he is ready for the big leagues.
“I always had the hope that I would get called up,” Alvarez said. “Because I knew that I could come up and help the team win.
“I never lost hope.”
He does not lack confidence, but the question will be whether he lacks enough chances.
The Mets will face two more righty starters against the Braves — with Daniel Vogelbach likely to start at DH — before finishing the regular season at home against the Nationals. Washington is expected to pitch Patrick Corbin — its only lefty starter — Sunday, a day before the series with the Mets begins.
Alvarez’s best chance would be to hit so well in limited opportunities against lefties — his healthy competition is Mark Vientos, who has gone 4-for-29 to begin his career — that he becomes an option against righties. Can the Mets see enough from Alvarez, who posted an .885 OPS with 27 home runs in 112 minor league games this season, to get a good read on how much he can help?
“No,” manager Buck Showalter said. But, “he has potential to help us. We’ll see.”