Image credit: San Diego Padres
The Padres signed Eric Hosmer last spring to a then-franchise-record $144 million deal, locking up the first base position for the next eight years. Then, last month, the Padres committed $300 million for Manny Machado to play third base for a decade, effectively blocking the franchise’s two corner infield spots for the foreseeable future.
That’s not necessarily the best news for a corner infielder who had recently played himself onto the Padres’ 40-man roster as a 34th-round pick and originally signed for $100,000, but 24-year-old Ty France smiled as he said all the right things after Machado’s arrival. Then, he homered, doubled twice and walked three times in his first 12 Cactus League plate appearances, proving he’s ready to walk the talk as he begins his fifth year in the Padres’ organization.
“I’m just going to go out and play my game,” France said. “Nothing on that side changes. (Machado) is one of the best in the game, and hopefully I get a chance to work with him and pick his brain and hopefully help me out in the long run.”
In an organization stocked with some of the game’s premier prospects, France’s stock had quietly climbed ever since the Padres plucked him out of neighboring San Diego State in 2015, and then a power surge put him firmly on the prospect map last season.
After homering 20 times in his first 321 games as a pro, France belted 22 home runs in 137 games as he rose from Double-A San Antonio to Triple-A El Paso. Always willing to take a walk, his career-best .819 OPS was a result of hunting pitches up in the strike zone.
“I honestly believe he’s a true testament to development,” said Phillip Wellman, who managed France in 2017 and 2018 in San Antonio. “I think he just realized how to attack a pitch with malicious intent. I saw him hit changeups for home runs. I saw him hit sliders, breaking balls, curveballs and of course he stayed on the fastball. Last year, he really was the guy. I wrote in my reports that he sniffs RBIs. He can smell them.
“He was the guy you wanted at the plate in a close game with a man on second and two outs because he invariably figured out a way to get him in.”
The front office rewarded France with a spot on the 40-man roster in November, protecting him from the Rule 5 draft. The 6-foot, 205-pound righthanded-hitter even began camp with an outside chance of winning San Diego’s third base job.
Machado definitely changes things.
The big league staff, however, will keep an eye on France.
“Ty obviously was at the front of the line of guys we were looking to compete for that job before we got Manny,” Padres manager Andy Green said after France hit his first home run of the spring. “It’s good to see him still go out and do some positive things. I think he’s got a real chance to impact us at some point in time this year.”