SAN DIEGO — Even by typical Pacific Coast League standards, the offensive environment on the circuit was positively bonkers this season. However, the friendly hitting environment shouldn’t diminish what El Paso infielder and now big-league graduate Ty France accomplished in 2019.
The 2015 34th-round pick hit an absurd .399/.447/.770 this season, with 27 homers and a wRC+ of 198, which would have led the PCL if he had enough at-bats to qualify among the league leaders. His 1.247 OPS tied for the league lead with Brewers outfielder Trent Grisham and was slightly ahead of Dodgers’ super-prospect Gavin Lux.
“Predictions are hard, and most of the time I get them wrong, so let me brag about this one — I predicted in a March preseason show that Ty would win PCL MVP and he did,” said Chihuahuas broadcaster Tim Hagerty.
In addition to winning the MVP in the Pacific Coast League, Ty France is our MadFriars Player of the Year, thanks to an offensive campaign in which France took his game to new heights.
“For me, it was going out every day at the plate and trying to get a good pitch to hit,” said France prior to the Padres’ final home game of 2019. “I put in a lot of work in the off-season, [really] working on the strength and conditioning part. The power numbers came [as a result]. It was a lot of fun to go out there and play.”
France’s power materialized with the Chihuahuas and he reached his career-high in homers, despite amassing less than 400 plate appearances in Triple-A. The prodigious power came with France lowering his strikeout rate to 14% while maintaining a solid 8.6% walk rate. France attributes the breakout to a more aggressive approach at the plate.
“[Decreasing my strikeouts] was partially because of the off-season work I put in and I think I was just a little more aggressive. I wasn’t afraid to strikeout and I was swinging more. And in Triple-A, the pitchers make a couple of more mistakes than they do [in the big leagues]. I was able to put the ball in play.”
Coming into the year, France was not necessarily looking to lead the league in many offensive categories, but he set goals for himself and reevaluated those goals every week and going into each new month.
“You have to hold yourself to some pretty high standards to play this game. You never go out and say ‘okay, I want to hit .200 this year.’ For me, going to [El Paso last year], I think I hit .290 (he hit .287). This year, the goal was to hit .300 and put in the work each day. When I [achieved the goal], I set new goals.”
France’s breakout resulted in a promotion to San Diego, where he played third base nearly every day after phenom shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. hit the shelf with a hamstring issue. France struggled in first stint in the big leagues, hitting just .235/.290/.357 in 108 plate appearances before being optioned back to El Paso. France didn’t view the demotion as something negative.
“I learned how good guys are up here. You are facing the best-of-the-best up here and I didn’t look at going back down as a demotion. I looked at it as [an opportunity] to get more reps. I talked to Andy [Green] before I left and he said ‘you didn’t do anything wrong, you held your own and did a good job here; just go down and get reps.’ That’s what I treated it as.”
In France’s return to El Paso, the infielder hit .392/.471/.733 with 18 homers in 57 games. His offensive production led to his selection to the Triple-A All-Star Game, the third straight season that France made a mid-season All-Star game. France homered in the game and won the top star award for the PCL squad.
As France’s offensive game shined, he also learned a new position on the fly. With the corner infield positions locked up in San Diego for the foreseeable future, France started to get reps at second base as a means to get his powerful bat in the lineup in San Diego. Prior to this season, France had never played second base at any level.
“[France] could be more of an emergency guy at second base, or a double switch,” said El Paso manager Edwin Rodriguez in an interview with us in July. “Ty is really good because he can play a lot of different positions and [is willing] do anything to try to help the team.”
“Everyday at [second base] is definitely getting easier,” said France. “It’s like riding a bike; you need to start with the training wheels and then go from there. Each day, I feel like I have gotten a little better. [Padres assistant hitting and infield coach] Damian Easley and these guys are incredible to work with. They do a great job — it’s definitely helped my game and it has taken it to another level.
When Tatis Jr. returned to the injured list in August, France rejoined the big league club for the remainder of the season. France’s numbers (.233/.298/.453) weren’t outstanding down the stretch but he did have a few big moments. He homered twice in a game against San Francisco and finished the season with a multi-hit game in the finale. The slugging infielder was much more comfortable at the plate in his second stint with the Padres.
“For me, the first go-around was the rookie jitters, the first-time jitters and the second time up, I have been a lot more comfortable. [I’ve] been a lot more relaxed at the plate and I’ve been able to be more of myself.”
France should go into next spring with a chance to win an everyday job at second base, or perhaps fill in all over the infield as a utility slugger. For him, the recognition he has received from many publications has helped give him validation heading into next season.
“It’s been pretty fun and incredible journey. The Padres have been incredible to me my entire career. They made it clear that from the time I signed that if you went out and put up the numbers, you’d get rewarded and that’s exactly what they did.”
You can read all of our level-by-level looks at the 2019 season for the San Diego Padres’ minor league affiliates. Please consider subscribing for access to our premium content, interviews, and upcoming top prospects lists.