PEORIA, Ariz. – Elevate to celebrate.
Ty France understands it’s the new hitting mantra permeating all levels of baseball. It’s a three-word phrase to emphasize hitting the ball in the air with a proper launch angle and exit velocity that will hopefully result in a homer or extra-base hit.
And really, that’s his goal as well.
But in his mind, when he’s about to swing at any pitched ball in the cage or on the field, he doesn’t want to think about elevating it.
“A lot of people bought into the new like launch angle and analytics of that, but for me, I can’t really do that,” he said. “I think swing down and good things happen.”
So maybe France’s mantra could be: “Think swing down to spray it around.”
It’s not quite catchy enough to generate much in T-shirt sales, but if France carries over the hitting production he showed late last season and has displayed early this spring into a full 162-game season with 500-plus plate appearance, well, it might catch on quickly.
In the Mariners’ 6-3 victory over the Royals on Tuesday, France continued his torrid Cactus League start. In the bottom of the first, France sat on a changeup from left-hander Danny Duffy, yanking a line drive over the wall in left field. Facing Duffy again an inning later, France stayed on a breaking ball and smacked another line drive off the wall in center. In his third plate appearance, he worked a walk.
France has played in six Cactus League games and has eight hits in 13 at-bats with two doubles, three homers and five RBI. He has one walk and hasn’t struck out yet. So officially, he’s batting .615 with a .667 on-base percentage and a 1.462 slugging percentage.
“Ty France continues to light it up this spring,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “He’s hitting the heck out of the ball.”
Spring training results don’t matter, but it’s how France is hitting the ball that is notable. When he commits to swinging at a pitch, he hits it squarely.
“Everything is on the barrel,” first baseman Evan White said. “Everything.”
Because France is able to keep the barrel of the bat in the strike zone for a long time, more than an average hitter.
“That means his timing doesn’t have to be perfect,” Servais said.
France’s college coach at San Diego State was known for keeping his barrel in the strike zone better than almost anyone. You might have heard of Tony Gwynn, who had more than 3,000 hits in his Hall of Fame career and has a statue of himself outside of Petco Park.
“Coming in there as an 18-year-old kid, you look at him and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is Tony Gwynn, the best hitter alive,’” France said. “For me hitting was my thing. I loved hitting and so I went in with the expectation that he was going to make me the next best hitter alive.”
Admittedly, he got caught up in the launch angle phenomenon, leading him astray from Gwynn’s philosophy.
“Guys were just beating me at the top of the zone with fastballs,” he said. “I went back to being myself.”
And it meant thinking about initiating down with his swing. He’s not trying to chop at the ball.
“It’s just a thought process,” he said. “I know if I’m thinking, swing down, it’ll flatten my barrel out through the zone for as long as possible.”
Obviously, France won’t continue this sort of run forever. But the Mariners expect him to be a presence in the middle of a lineup desperate for consistent production.
“Understanding that he’s really hot right now and the ball looks like a beach ball coming in there to him, but he can hit,” Servais said.
General manager Jerry Dipoto tried unsuccessfully to pry France away from the Padres in the past. But last season at the Aug. 31 trade deadline, he was able to acquire France along with touted prospect Taylor Trammell, hard-throwing right-hander Andres Munoz and catcher Luis Torrens from San Diego in exchange for catcher Austin Nola and relievers Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla.
With Trammell playing better than expected and Munoz nearing full recovery from Tommy John surgery, all four players could be on the Mariners’ big league roster by mid-June.
Of the four, France was the most MLB ready. He played in 69 games with the Padres in 2019 and 20 in 2020, posting middling results with a .251/.313/.423 slash line with 12 doubles, nine homers and 34 RBI. With Manny Machado at third and Eric Hosmer at first, and his own defensive inadequacies, France had limited opportunities.
The Mariners viewed France’s best position as hitter, so they were willing to use him at designated hitter, then give him random starts at third base, second base and first base.
He played the final 23 games of 2020 with Seattle, posting a .301/.362/.453 line with five doubles, a triple, two homers, 13 RBI, six walks and 22 strikeouts.
This year they want to get him 500-plus plate appearances.
“It’ll depend on what we need as a ballclub and Ty understands,” Servais said. “Anytime you can do that much damage at the plate and have that good of an idea of the strike zone and you just continue to get better, that’s a really, really valuable offensive player. We’re going to need it.”
France relishes the idea of coming to the park and knowing he’s in the lineup without having to look at the bulletin board.
“It gives you that confidence to go out there and just be yourself, play your game and know that you’ll be in the lineup the next day,” he said. “It takes a huge weight off your shoulders.”