Every now and then, J.P. France watches film from his 2019 season at High-A Fayetteville. He does not recognize the pitcher on screen.
“My whole windup completely changed,” France said. “My leg lift is probably a foot and a half lower. I look like a completely different pitcher.”
France’s transformation culminated in November when the Astros added him to their 40-man roster and protected him from the Rule 5 draft. The 27-year-old righthander has emerged as a reliable, innings-eating starter with a chance to impact the major league team in 2023.
He recorded a 3.90 ERA in 110.2 innings for Triple-A Sugar Land this season, striking out 136 and walking 51.
After 2019, France entered the winter intent on overhauling his mechanics. Fate gave him plenty of time to tinker.
“The Covid season is the best thing that could have happened to me,” said France, a 14th-round pick in 2018 out of Mississippi State who signed for $1,000. “One, it gave my arm a rest. And, two, it really gave me a reason to just focus on completely changing my mechanics.”
Along with lowering his leg kick, France also fixed issues in his hips and shoulders. All three adjustments allowed him to move down the mound better.
“I was having to work uphill on the mound and everything wasn’t working like it should have,” France said. “Now, with me getting momentum down the mound a little sooner, I had to shorten up my leg kick because I would not be on time at all with my arm.”
France’s mechanical adjustments enhanced his five-pitch arsenal. Most of his success comes with a cutter. Teams started to notice, so he worked this season on getting his slider into the shape Houston prefers.
His new delivery allowed velocity spikes on his looping curveball, which once sat in the low 70s and now hovers around 74-77 mph, and changeup, which spiked from 69 mph to 82-84 with good run.
Late in the 2022 season, in preparation for a possible September callup, the Astros experimented with France as a traditional reliever. Now on the 40-man, he will shift back to the rotation.
Given Houston’s elite major league rotation, France is aware he may debut out of the bullpen. He’s used to such changes.