Ty France has flown under the radar as far as San Diego Padres prospects go. The infielder looks to be a solid prospect, but the Friars have plenty of young talent. Where does that leave the former SDSU product?
France didn’t seem to be too dismayed by the situation however as he got off to a blistering start to the season with Triple-A El Paso, hitting to a .423/.500/.885 line with nine home runs in the season’s first three weeks and picking up a PCL Player of the Week award along the way.
France did enough to receive a call-up on April 24 when Jose Pirela went on the IL with an oblique strain. He eventually made his debut two days later as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning against the Nationals. In that first plate appearance of his career, he picked up his first hit, a single through the 5.5 hole, the favored location of Padres legend, and France’s former coach at SDSU, Tony Gwynn.
Despite his production in Triple-A, it didn’t look like there was much of an opportunity for France to receive regular at-bats with the Padres as both corner infield spots are occupied by the two most significant contracts in franchise history. But the MLB season is long and fraught with injuries, and on April 28th Fernando Tatís Jr. went down with a hamstring injury while stretching to make a play at second base in Washington and he landed on the IL.
As painful as Tatis’s injury was for the Padres, it did present France with the opportunity he had been waiting for. Machado was shifted over to shortstop, a position he’s played over a thousand innings at previously with the Orioles and Dodgers, and France was plugged in as the team’s starting third baseman.
France has had just over thirty at-bats at the major league level and is currently hitting at a modest .219/.297/.406 in his limited action. At 32.4%, he’s striking out at roughly double the rate than he usually does in the minors, but this is relatively typical of players during their initial call ups as it takes time to adjust to the higher caliber of pitching at the top level. France’s BABIP currently sits at a fairly average .300, so as long as he can cut those strikeouts down as he gets more experience against good pitching, his offensive production should start to rise and make him a reasonably valuable piece on the major league roster.
With Tatis taking part in extended spring training in Arizona as he rehabs and the potential that he could be back with the club as soon as the series in LA next week, will France be relegated back to a bench role or optioned to El Paso? Perhaps neither. Considering the very well noted struggles of Ian Kinsler, another infield spot may be available for France. By fWAR, Ian Kinsler is currently the third worst player in all of baseball with a -0.5 fWAR, just better than Travis Shaw and Jackie Bradley Jr. Kinsler’s current .177/.238/.327 line is abysmal and a stark contrast from the value he provided at the plate earlier in his career with the Rangers and Tigers. While his hard-hit rate has stayed on line with his career averages, his contact rate is down over 8%, and his swinging strike rate has climbed nearly four points since last year. The veteran second baseman and two-time Gold Glove winner has also had his fair share of troubles on the defensive side of the ball. Through just 35 games he’s committed a pair of errors, along with several hard-hit balls getting past him that he would’ve had in previous years, and has already compiled -3 defensive runs saved. Simply put, Ian Kinsler is not the player he once was. While members of the front office and Andy Green may feel that Kinsler can still play a valuable leadership role to the younger players on the roster, his days in the starting lineup should undoubtedly be numbered.
If Kinsler is taken out of the lineup, that could present another opportunity for France. The vast majority of France’s innings in the minors have come at the two corner infield positions, but he has seen some limited action at second earlier this season in El Paso. In those brief six games, he went errorless in 24 chances. It’s admittedly not a huge sample size to draw from, and he would experience some growing pains while trying to develop more at the position while playing against the best hitters in the world. However, as long as the front office still feels that Urías has aspects of his game to work on in El Paso, it would be very worth it to see how flexible France can become. You need to see how his bat will play at the major league level to potentially be used as a trade chip down the line or one of the valuable utility players that you see lining the bench of so many championship clubs.
As a 34th round draft pick in 2015, Ty France has never considered one of the Padres top prospects. Through parts of four seasons in the minors, he made the most of every opportunity along his way. Injuries at the major league level this season have presented him with more opportunities and France looks to continue his success as he fights to show he belongs at this level.