WASHINGTON D.C.—“He hunts the fastball, he hunts the R.B.I. He’s one of the guys I want up at the plate with the game on the line,” said Philip Wellman, the manager of the Double-A San Antonio Missions last year on his third baseman Ty France, who led the Missions in R.B.I. despite being on the same squad as more heralded prospects such as Fernando Tatis, Jr., Josh Naylor, and Austin Allen.
“Ty is a smart, tough kid and he is going to play in the big leagues.”
This year, France, a 34th round draft pick from San Diego State in 2015, forced a promotion to the big leagues this season with .423/.451/.885 slash line in 19 games in Triple-A El Paso.
“For us in Spring [Training] what we saw was someone having controlled quality at-bats, with power as well,” said Padres’ manager Andy Green on Friday night after Ty’s first hit; a pinch-hit single in the eighth inning.
“If you can do that repetitively, you can be a good big league hitter. He did that in El Paso, used the big part of the ballpark, got on base – which is what he did in Spring Training.
“We just really liked the quality of his at-bats. What you saw tonight is what he’s about.”
Although he was a late round draft pick, France also was a very good player for the Aztecs hitting .337/.432/.473 and was a third-team pre-season Baseball America All-American, but an injury in his junior sent him down the draft board.
“The draft was a process for me,” France admitted to the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2017. “I was pretty upset at the time. I felt like I had earned throughout my college career a little bit higher (of a slot), but everything happens for a reason.”
The Padres paid France the maximum bonus allowed without going over slot of $100,000 and paid for the rest of his education which was enough for France to pack his bags for San Diego’s short-season affiliate in Tri-City.
Despite being a three-year starter at third base in college, France was moved to first base where he hit .294/.425/.391, but he didn’t feel great.
“My first year I was close to around 240, which just was an uncomfortable weight, said France before his second big league game. “The lower you are in the minors the less meal options that you have and I wasn’t taking care of my body the way that I should.
“I was also young and I thought that I could eat that the way I did when I was in college, and I couldn’t.
“I also got to give a good amount of credit to my trainer. He got me down from 240 to 205 and now I’m at 215 and feel really comfortable. He told me that if I wanted to play at the highest level my body couldn’t be where it was.
“The lighter you are, the quicker you are. If I was going to bounce around in a utility role I definitely had to be quicker and I feel that way. Range wise it’s been huge.”
While France was a good player in Low-A Fort Wayne and High-A Lake Elsinore, he began to get some notice with what he did with the Missions in 2018 and a brief cameo with the Chihuahuas with a .819 OPS, a .355 on-base and 54 extra-base hits.
“I started off a little slow and put to much pressure on myself going back to San Antonio. Once I stopped doing that and tried to have fun again things got better.
“There were certain things mechanically I worked on and tried to elevate the ball a little more which helped me drive in a few more runs.”
With the offseason signing of Manny Machado, France who has played third and first base for most of his career began to also see time at second base this season.
“We will get him out there with Damon Easley and get him some reps around the infield, and some at second base,” said Green on the Padres’ plans for France at second base. “He has had five games there in his life, so that is quick to insert him in a major league game. We just want to see him work around the bag for a while and feel comfortable.”
Then we’ll see if there is an opportunity there. He’s here primarily to be a bat off the bench and help us win games like he did today.”
As noted last year, France has also been experimenting with catching and even a little in left field, but surprisingly the outfield one is a little harder.
“The whole catching thing wasn’t that new, because I caught growing up,” France said on being asked to play what might be the most difficult position in the game. “Of course there are a lot more things involved with it here than in high school, but it was mainly just getting the rust off.
“Left field was another story, I had never played out there.
“[Two years ago] Edwin Rodriguez, our High-A manager then, told me during batting practice to go out and get some reps in the outfield because I was going to be playing out there soon.
“So I said no problem, went out there and got some reps and was feeling ok about it. Then I went in the dugout and checked the lineup card and found out I was starting out there today. I was like, whoa – what do I got here?
“I borrowed Michael Gettys glove for the day and the first seven innings were smooth. I caught a couple of pop flies, almost threw a few guys out at second and home and then in the eighth inning, a lefty hit me a line drive. I didn’t know how to play their slice and it spun me around in a circle and I swatted it down and fell.
“It was pretty embarrassing. They showed it on the Jumbotron and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, what am I doing?’
“I haven’t taken many reps out there since and don’t know if it will be an option here, but if it is I have some work to do”
One hallmark of France’s career has been either his ability or inability, to get out of the way at balls thrown at him. In five minor league seasons, he’s been hit 94 times.
Last season he walked 46 times and was hit 27 times.
“It helps me out a lot because I don’t walk that much – so it kind of evens out,” laughed France.
“But maybe it’s also a little bit of college I’ve carried with me. At San Diego State we were taught not to get out of the way and maybe I think I’m letting Coach Gwynn down a little if I don’t do what I was taught.”