Bringing up top prospect Francisco Alvarez worth a shot for Mets

ATLANTA — The question at this point is why not. Not why. 

The Mets summoned top prospect Francisco Alvarez with six games left in the season because take your pick — hunch or genius, desperation or inspiration. But really it comes down to why not? 

Darin Ruf and Mark Vietntos were not bringing anything to the party from the right side and who knows if or when Starling Marte might return from his fractured finger. Then Ruf came down with what the Mets call a neck injury and I actually believe it. Because if the plan was to have a convenient IL stint then they would have prepped Alvarez to comfortably get to Atlanta. 

Instead, after his Triple-A season ended Wednesday, he was driving from Syracuse to Miami on Thursday with a pitstop in the Carolinas, with the plan to relax over the weekend then return to Port St. Lucie on Monday to stay sharp just in case he was needed. But the fire drill went into play Thursday night when — in the car with his parents — Alvarez received a call from Mets director of player development Kevin Howard to divert to Atlanta. 

He was being called up and would be in the starting lineup Friday, batting seventh versus Braves ace lefty Max Fried to begin a pivotal NL East-deciding series. 

It was imperfect. But perfect left when the Mets could not secure a no-questions-asked DH bat at the trade deadline and then Ruf tanked his righty end of a platoon. So the Mets will try to catch lightning in a bottle — perhaps even taking all the DH bats from lefties Tyler Naquin and Daniel Vogelbach, too. So I sought out the foremost expert on that cliche when it comes to baseball for his opinion. 

“As a DH, go for it, man,” Joe Maddon said by phone. 

Francisco Alvarez make his Mets debut on Friday.
Francisco Alvarez make his Mets debut on Friday.
Courtesy of the New York Mets

Maddon is perhaps more familiar with the baseball Hail Mary than anyone. In 2002, he was the Angels bench coach when Francisco Rodriguez was called up in mid-September for his MLB debut and was instrumental from there forward in the Angels winning their still only championship. 

He was the Rays manager in 2008 when David Price — a consensus top 10 prospect in MLB then like Alvarez is now — was promoted in mid-September for his debut and was essential in helping Tampa Bay to its first AL title after being converted in that moment from starter to relief. He also was Tampa Bay’s skipper in 2011 when Matt Moore was summoned in mid-September and actually started and won Game 1 of a Division Series against Texas. Two years later, Kevin Kiermaier literally made his major league debut for Maddon to play defense in the final half inning of the regular season and then was put on the wild card roster for the same role. 

And in 2016, after missing nearly all of the season, Kyle Schwarber (who had debut in 2015) joined Maddon’s Cubs after a handful of Arizona Fall League at-bats to help them as the DH beat Francisco Lindor’s Indians in the World Series. 

“You’re not relying on him to play defense — so no calling a game or throwing out runners or blocking pitchers or all that is entailed in catching,” said Maddon, who was fired as Angels manager earlier this season. “The easiest area to take a shot is as a hitter. Kyle came back and inspired the Cubs. So I think as a hitter, I would have no trepidation whatsoever. If I thought he was that good, I would absolutely throw it out there.” 

Francisco Alvarez warms up before making his Mets debut.
Francisco Alvarez warms up before making his Mets debut.
AP

The Mets publicly did not want to commit to starting Alvarez in the final six games. Both Buck Showalter and Billy Eppler insisted it was read and react day to day. It would not be surprising if Naquin is in the lineup Saturday, though it could be as an outfielder, because he is 3-for-6 with two homers off scheduled Atlanta starter Kyle Wright; a stat offered by a member of the Mets. 

Can Alvarez handle this burden? He arrived at 20 years and 315 days — the first Met to play at age 20 since Dilson Herrera in 2014. Alvarez is currently the youngest player in the majors. But he also arrived — like K-Rod, Price and Schwarber — overflowing with talent. After an IL stint for an ankle injury, he finished his Triple-A season hitting .362 in his last 12 games with three homers. 

“Isn’t scouting a hunch anyway? I mean, it’s an inexact science,” Maddon said. “Everybody’s on board with this guy. They think this guy’s good. … They already know the answer. I mean, if they think this kid can hit, then let him hit.” 

Why not?