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Jeremy Barnes was picked on the third and final day of the 2009 MLB Draft, so he is intimately familiar with the type of minor leaguer that is traditionally considered an afterthought.
The closest he got to the major leagues was three plate appearances in Triple-A with the Phillies in 2012. A month later, he was released. That winter, he played the first of three offseasons in Australia. He’s well acquainted with the rigors of Minor League Baseball.
When farm director Kevin Howard was promoted to the Mets’ major league coaching staff at the beginning of May, Barnes was tabbed to pick up the responsibilities. Originally hired this offseason as the director of player development initiatives, he’s now the point person for the organization’s minor league operations.
His goal? Emphasize the top prospects while making sure those with backgrounds not unlike his own don’t get left behind.
“I think the biggest thing we want to continue to push is development all across the way,” Barnes said on the first episode of Mets Prospective presented by Verizon. “We have a lot of really good things here, but we want to be known to be relentless with our development, and from top to bottom just continue to raise the floor. From our last picks in the draft, to senior signs, to our top 10 prospects.”
The processes that Barnes and the Mets’ other new player development hires are beginning to put in place are designed to turn those less-heralded minor leaguers into future major leaguers.
That’s an operation that will take time to deliver its fruits, so for now, it’s those top prospects who have Barnes and the organization salivating.
“I’ve been impressed by what we have in the cupboard right now,” he said. “We have some exciting players to watch and follow.”
That starts with Francisco Alvarez, the 19-year-old catcher from Venezuela who has shot up prospect lists since the end of the 2019 season. As one of the youngest players in Low-A, Alvarez is hitting .459/.580/.649 through 12 games for St. Lucie.
“He’s hitting the ball hard on a consistent basis, which is always incredibly exciting,” Barnes said. “And the thing that excites me the most is he’s drawing his walks. He’s not up there being overly aggressive and swinging at everything that comes his way. There’s a plan up there and he’s implementing it.”
Entering Wednesday, Alvarez was the only player in all of Minor League Baseball who had drawn two-and-a-half walks for each strikeout, with a minimum of 45 plate appearances.
“There was a game last week [May 9] where I think he had three walks and we had a conversation afterward about how dangerous he can be with his power potential if he goes up there and is willing to take a walk,” Barnes said.
While the success rate on teenaged catching prospects is notoriously low, the Mets feel that Alvarez excels in the intangible department to the point where they can envision him in the major leagues in a matter of years.
“Very few catchers just fly through systems and are in the minor leagues for a short period of time,” Barnes said. “He’s blown me away with these intangible parts of the game, that I feel very confident that he’s going to be able to do it and that he’s currently working on it.”
The logical question then becomes how soon is too soon for Alvarez to be promoted to High-A Brooklyn. He won’t post an OPS over 1.200 for the entire season, presumably, so what factors go into such a decision?
“We want to be objective,” Barnes said. “We want to use the information we have, we want to look at predictive metrics, we want to look at these things that we know can stabilize pretty quickly and that we can trust, and not just judge guys, on batting average or some things that may have luck involved.
“We also want to start leaning on the side of aggressiveness, but we want to be smart. Our decisions are our competitive advantage. Everyone has prospects, everyone has technology, everyone has good coaches. How we use that and the decisions we make on that are our competitive advantage and that goes in that involves calling a player up.”
While Alvarez continues to tear it up in Florida, look for him to get close to two months of games under his belt before the organization starts thinking about a promotion.