EL PASO, Texas — In the off-season, Ty France, 24, got in the proverbial “best shape of his life” and this season it has been paying off. First in Double-A San Antonio, and then after his recent promotion to Triple-A El Paso, France has hit .269/.353/.468 with a career-high 21 home runs while seeing time at first and third base. The organization has also had him taking fly balls in left field and in El Paso he was putting on the catcher’s gear for bullpens.
Despite posting a .337/.432/.473 slash line in a three-year career at San Diego State, Ty France lasted until the 34th round in the 2015 draft. While players picked that late usually are not top prospects, France made the most of his opportunities hitting at short-season Tri-City while playing a new position, first base. With the Dust Devils, he hit .294/.425/.391 and continued to hit at both High-A Lake Elsinore and San Antonio.
One of the reasons his on-base percentage is so high is that he seems to be a magnet for the ball. At San Antonio, he was hit 25 times and came within two balls of breaking a 1916 Texas League record for being hit by a pitch.
“He lost some weight this year as compared to last, which made him much more mobile in the field,” said Mike Saeger, the Missions’ play-by-play announcer. “As for why he gets hit by a pitch so often, I really don’t know.
“He has shown the ability to kind of get his leg in the way if a pitch is coming close. He will kind of turn in from the pitch but at the same time bending that front leg a smidge toward the plate. He has a little Chase Utley in him in that regard; otherwise, it’s a mystery.”
He was nice enough to sit down for a few minutes in the shade on a hot 102-degree day in El Paso.
MadFriars: Were you just catching Dillon Overton’s bullpen?
Ty France: Yeah, I was. They asked me to try it out.
What do you think of it?
Ty France: It adds another tool and it’s fun. I like it. You are always part of the game.
With Javier Guerra, Luis Urias, and Carlos Asuaje in the infield, you have been playing a few games at first. While it is not a new position for you, how do you feel at first, and is there a position you prefer?
Ty France: I don’t mind playing first. I’ve played it before, and I really want to play and will play any position if I can get in the lineup. I have played third my entire life, so it is home for me. I like first because you are involved a lot more and get a lot more action, but my primary love will always be third.
Any other positions besides first, third, and now catching?
Ty France: Last year I got into a game in left field, and that was different. Really it is just first and third. They asked me a short time ago to try catching, and right now it is just an experiment. I don’t think too much about it, besides having something else to help me get to the majors.
Managers will often find weird ways to tell players they were promoted. How were you told?
Ty France: We were taking infield in San Antonio, and Phillip (Welman) came over to me and asked if I had ever been to Triple-A before. I said “No,” and he responded with “you are not in our lineup tonight, pack your bags, you are heading to El Paso. Congratulations.”
It was a surprise, but pretty cool.
How has it been since being promoted?
Ty France: It has been a lot of fun. Obviously, they are a winning team and have a great clubhouse atmosphere. It is definitely a mixed age clubhouse with players like Urias and [Francisco] Mejia who are 21 and guys like [Allen] Craig who are, let’s say, “more mature.” It is a good mixture.
While it has only been a few weeks, what has been the biggest difference you’ve noticed between Double-A and Triple-A?
Ty France: I think the biggest difference is these guys throw a lot more strikes, and can do so whenever they want to. It’s not just the pitchers, the umpires are also a little better, and I have to adjust. You have to be able to protect the plate more, and it is harder to wait for your pitch.
(At this point Francisco Mejia comes by and spends 30 seconds offering his bat as a microphone for the “celebrity.”)
When you talked to us last year, you mentioned that you were a bit disappointed with your extra-base output [24 doubles, five home runs]. How do you feel like you have handled that this year?
Ty France: Yeah, last year I felt like I was a corner infielder without the power, and really wanted to be that stereotypical corner infielder that hit with power and drove in runs. I didn’t necessarily come into the season with a number in mind, but rather, wanted to drive the ball more, and it has worked pretty well.
Last year I felt like I was more focused on getting on base, and became more of a singles hitter. I hit well [.288 in Lake Elsinore] but would end up stuck at first because I don’t have the speed to steal a base.
Speaking of speed, is that something that you have worked on this year?
Ty France: I don’t think you necessarily have to be fast to steal a base or go first to third, it’s more about being smart. If you pick your spots and watch the pitcher, it is possible. I know I am not the speediest, but I try to out-think them and be a bit smarter than the pitcher.
As a San Diego State Aztec, what is it like playing in the Padres’ organization?
Ty France: It’s awesome. To be picked by the hometown team is always a dream come true. I am from LA, but three years in San Diego, and it became home. I had two years with Coach Gwynn and my junior year with Coach Martinez, so I feel I got the best of both worlds.
Coach Gwynn is Mr. Padre, so getting to be in his organization is something special.
Any plans for the offseason?
Ty France: Each offseason I try to get into a little bit better shape, so the main thing for me will be to get my body where it needs to be. My goal every year is to play 140 games, and so I will do whatever I can to be in the best shape possible to be able to play every game.