France's stats legit? He'll get ABs to prove it

March 10th, 2021

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Spring Training stats can be nebulous, imprecise and not paint the clearest picture. But 's slash line right now is so gaudy, and the eye test of what he’s doing at the plate seems so legitimate, that his current tear likely has validity.

After reaching base in each of his three plate appearances during the Mariners’ 6-3 win over the Royals -- with a solo homer, an RBI double off the center-field wall and a five-pitch walk -- France is slashing .615/.667/1.462 over 14 plate appearances. If he had enough at-bats to qualify, his 2.128 OPS would be the highest of all big leaguers in Spring Training, and his three homers trail only the Rangers’ Joey Gallo, who has five.

It’s a wildly small sample size and the opposition hasn’t been ace-level, but France entered camp with a track record of hitting everything in sight.

His success has obviously impressed the Mariners, but France’s process leading to the results has been just as illuminating. His homer was against a changeup and the double was off a curveball, both from Danny Duffy, and they each had exit velocities higher than 105 mph. Over 112 big league games since his debut in 2019, France has hit secondary pitches with a .256 average and .444 slugging percentage.

“He has a lot of adjustability in his swing, he can handle multiple pitches no matter where they're at in the strike zone, and that's what allows him to be consistent,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said, while likening France’s hitting ability to former Cubs great Mark Grace, whom Servais played with in the 1990s.

“Mark was a tremendous hitter, and you would sit and look and [say], ‘How does he do it? Man, it's just enough to get it over the shortstop’s head or it’s just in the hole.’ You know, I mean, he's got a knack for getting hits, and Ty's got the same thing going on with his bat. But there's a reason for it. It's because his bat stays on plane for a long time and he's able to handle different velocities.”

France isn’t a product of the launch-angle revolution, he says. In fact, he had to ditch the data when he was first called up by the Padres in 2019. That year, he hit 27 homers for San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate.

“I feel like my swing has been pretty similar my entire life,” France said. “I've been fortunate to be able to hit for most of my life. It's not something where I try and go out and change. At this point in my career, I feel like my swing is my swing. … I’ve been playing baseball since I was 2 years old.”

France is showing more and more why the Mariners weren’t the only team that tried to acquire him at the Trade Deadline last year. In fact, Seattle fielded offers for France from several teams after acquiring him to see if the club would be willing to flip him. France is another piece of the rebuild here to stay long term -- and in 2021, he will be used all over the infield, in addition to his primary DH role.

On Tuesday, France made his first spring start at second base, where he’s expected to back up Dylan Moore. He’ll also be used at first as insurance for Evan White. But his long-term profile is best suited for third, where he’ll play on days Kyle Seager rests. Though the story with France has been his bat, the Mariners are bullish on his glove’s potential, particularly given that by this time next year -- when Seager could potentially be gone via free agency -- France will have a full year under his belt working with infield guru Perry Hill.

But one thing is for sure: Seattle sees France as an everyday player, and barring health, his bat will be in the lineup for 600 plate appearances this season.

“Knowing that a team, an organization wants you in the lineup every day, it gives you that confidence to go out there and just be yourself and play your game,” France said. “Knowing that you'll be in the lineup the next day, it takes a huge weight off your shoulders.”