It is now time for the third part of my Deep Dives On the Trade Return for Austin Nola; if you missed the first two parts, on Taylor Trammell and Andrés Muñoz, make sure to check those out.
Do you know how when you have a friend, someone you like and whose taste you respect, and they just will not shut up about some book/band/movie, and you’re sure it’s really good and all but also you weren’t there when your friend formed this attachment to this thing and maybe you’re a little jealous of that? Or like it’s so much a thing that your friend has claimed it can never truly be yours? So even if you suspect it’s good you kind of avoid it anyway? Anyway, in this scenario that thing is Ty France, and the friend in question is our own Joe Doyle. Joan Didion wrote that a place belongs forever to whom claims it hardest, and the country of Ty France has long been lain claim to by Joe, who has pointed out (rightfully) that France is an ideal fit for Seattle. But Joe is busy this week and this is my series, so consider this article an attempt to wrench away, shape, and render Ty France for my own. I’ve co-opted plenty of other things my cooler friends have liked over the years, this shouldn’t be too hard.
To the Four Guiding Questions of this series!
- Why did the Padres give this player up?
This is an easy one. As Joe would point out to whoever would listen, France was a performing player without a spot to play in San Diego. A Cali boy who was a 34th-round draft choice out of SDSU in 2015, the hometown Padres gave France 100,000, literal riches for that late in the draft (France was a strong college performer who suffered an unfortunate injury his junior year that, along with playing in a non-power conference, severely damaged his draft stock). France rewarded the Padres by hitting at every single minor-league level to which he was sent; the worst he ever did was in his first run at Double-A in 2017, when his wRC+ was a mere 104+. It’s to France’s credit he hit so well he still managed to wedge his way onto the big league team even after he was blocked at both corner infield spots by splash signings in Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado—who maybe could have played short except for the emergence of MVP-caliber Fernando Tatís Jr. The Padres! They are loaded. That also means, however, France requires a roster spot, something that is becoming precious currency in the land of San Diego.
- Why did the Mariners target this player?
The Mariners draft like the dril candles tweet, except where candles are “college arms and outfielders.” Please, my infielders are dying.
- What are the risks?
Let’s start with the less-than-positive news. No, Ty France is not a Kyle Seager replacement. France is a fringe defender who would ideally play first or DH but can play third, and can somewhat less credibly play second (he’s 5’11” and 215 which isn’t...ideal for 2B without some extreme athleticism or hard work). There’s still some defensive utility in that profile, especially when paired with infield guru Perry Hill, but no, Ty France will not be going up to Kyle Seager in spring training and announcing “I’m the third baseman now.”
On to the hitting, which is France’s carrying tool. His minor-league numbers are very shiny, but it’s important to remember that San Diego plays in two of the offense-friendliest places in baseball in their Triple-A stadium in El Paso and High-A Lake Elsinore. The Triple-A stadium is particularly egregious, and that plus the juiced ball in 2019 combined to give France an otherworldly line of .399/.477/.770, but again, and I cannot state this firmly enough, do not allow your eyes to bug out while going awoogha-woogha like a cartoon character looking at that line. It’s enough to appreciate what France did at other, non-offensively-juiced places like San Antonio, not a particularly friendly place to hit in the Texas League (unlike the new stadium in Amarillo); he still knocked 17 home runs in that season in what was then a much more offensively-dampened Texas League (although none at DSP, a confirmed place for right-handed power to die).
As a pro, France hasn’t yet hit the ball particularly hard—hit exit velocities are below league-average, and his hard-hit rate was in the 40s in his debut season in 2019 but that has shrunk in half in 2020. He’s also been a heavy pull hitter and struck out much more in the majors than he ever did in the minors, but that could easily be a function of not getting regular reps in San Diego’s crowded lineup. Encouragingly, in 2020, France has already improved on his 2019 numbers, getting his BB% closer to where it had been in the minors, although there’s too much noise in his other numbers to make any kind of statement, as he has just 40 batted ball events on the season. As far as risks go, this is a kind of profile that’s heavily dependent on the bat, and because of the offensive environment France was playing in in the minors as well as noisy data from his time in the majors, the Magic 8 Ball says outlook cloudier than a Seattle winter day in trying to project France’s future.
- What is the best-case scenario for this player, and what needs to happen for them to get there?
For all that, France is still a player Joe dreamed on for a reason. In the past, Joe’s various scenarios for acquiring France often involved the Padres eventually realizing they would have to DFA him and the Mariners swooping him up and carrying him across the Peoria complex, Officer and a Gentleman-style. Basically, all Ty France has to do is outhit Marmolejos and the ghost of Daniel Vogelbach, and baby, you’ve got yourself a DH stew going. If he can spell Seager at third while doing that, all the better. Ty France has needed opportunities to play, and the 2020 (2021) Mariners are in the position of giving those opportunities to him. What he does with them will be entirely up to him.