Big Mariners Questions in ’22: How high is Ty France’s ceiling?
While one of the most anticipated seasons in Mariners history is on hold until the MLB lockout ends, we’re not letting that get in our way of breaking down why 2022 should be a big year for baseball in Seattle. Keep your eye on 710Sports.com as we continue our series of articles looking at important topics for the Mariners. In the coming days, we will be focusing on the lineup.
In this post, 710Sports.com’s Brent Stecker looks at just how high 2021 breakout hitter Ty France’s ceiling could be. Look for more posts about big questions about the Mariners’ lineup throughout this week.
The 2022 Mariners’ roster will feature players at all kinds of different junctures in their careers – and with all kinds of different expectations, too.
There are the likes of Mitch Haniger and marquee acquisition Robbie Ray, players in their early 30s that have established themselves as stars at the top of their games and who the M’s will lean heavily on.
There are the former top prospects looking to prove in their second big league seasons that they can be the next Hanigers and Rays – Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert, specifically.
But there is only one Mariners player in the truly unique position of both coming off a breakout season and going into a year where no one would be all that surprised if he made an even more meaningful step forward.
That player is Ty France, who in 2021 was Seattle’s most valuable player if you go by WAR (he led the team with 4.3, per Baseball Reference) and yet never gave the impression he was bumping up against his ceiling as a hitter. And that’s very much a good thing.
For this week’s stretch of our ongoing Mariners series, we’re focusing on big questions about Seattle’s lineup for 2022. And for me, it was an easy choice what to write about because I have no bigger question than how high France’s ceiling goes.
Let me tell you why.
France was never a eye-catching prospect. He was a 34th-round pick by San Diego in the 2015 MLB Draft (FYI, last year’s draft had only 20 rounds). He’s not the athletic specimen that Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez are. He didn’t really have a set position, bouncing between first, second and third base.
And none of that has ever mattered when France steps in the batter’s box.
He’s hit at every stop he’s made – .816 OPS in his first minor league season with Single-A Tri-City in 2015, .807 between two Single-A teams in 2016, .726 between High-A and Double-A in 2017, and .819 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018.
Then things got serious.
France torched Triple-A in 2019, slashing .399/.477/.770 for a ridiculous 1.277 OPS in 76 games for El Paso, earning him 69 MLB games with San Diego that year. He then got 43 games in the big leagues in 2020 between the Padres and Mariners, once again finishing with an OPS over .800 (.836, to be exact).
Finally, France got his first full MLB season in 2020 and didn’t disappoint. He slashed .291/.368/.445 for an .813 OPS in 152 games for the M’s, slugging 18 homers, 32 doubles and a triple along the way. And those numbers look all the better when you factor in an early-season wrist injury that he suffered on one of his MLB-leading 27 hit-by pitches, an injury he tried to play through but eventually went on the injured list to rest after falling into a dismal slump.
The wrist continued to bother France even after his return from his short IL stint, as on more than one occasion he screamed in pain after a swing. But in the 115 games after he dipped to a .229 batting average and .700 OPS on May 13, he built his numbers back up by slashing .309/.378/.468 for an .847 OPS with 15 homers, 23 doubles and his lone triple.
The numbers from those 115 games look closer to what I think a season of prime Ty France could be. That production stretched out over a 162-game season not only would make him a clear-cut All-Star, but dare I say would be Edgar-esque.
I’m not the first nor will I be the last to compare France to Edgar Martinez, and there’s good reason for that. Both began their MLB careers as third basemen, both were afterthoughts as prospects but never stopped producing, and neither would be confused for Kenny Lofton on the basepaths. But most importantly, both just hit, whether it’s doubles, dingers, or soft singles that go where fielders aren’t. They hit strikes. They hit not-strikes. And while Edgar walked a lot more, France tends to make up for that by getting hit (hopefully for his sake he starts finding his way on base more by virtue of ball four instead of ball-meets-flesh).
If the Mariners improve on their 90-win 2021 season and make the postseason this year, I’d be willing to bet France’s bat in the middle of the lineup (and improved defense at first base) plays a huge role. I think there’s more power in his bat still to be tapped into, something that’s been hinted at both last August when he hit five homers in a nine-game stretch and in 2019 when he smacked 27 homers in 76 Triple-A games. I keep saying that if a player with his bat-to-ball skills hits 25 to 30 homers to go with 40-plus doubles in a season, it’s going to be a big deal. The slash numbers that would accompany those totals would be astronomical.
So how high is Ty France’s ceiling? If I had to make a guess, I’d say pretty high. And I think the Mariners are banking on it.
Previous Mariners series: Big questions for the rotation
• Shannon Drayer: How will 4 big M’s prospects figure into rotation?
• Brandon Gustafson: What to look for from Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen
• Brent Stecker: Do Justin Dunn, Justus Sheffield fit into Mariners’ plans?