Tyler Lawrence France
Height: 5'11" Weight: 217 lbs.
Bats/Throws: Right / Right
Born: 07/13/1994 in Downey, California
College: San Diego State University
MLB Debut: 04/26/2019
Acquired: In trade from the San Diego Padres, with Luis Torrens, Taylor Trammel, and Andres Muñoz, for Austin Nola, Dan Altavilla, and Austin Adams (08/30/2020)
Free Agent after: 2025 season
Awards: AL Player of the Week (4/24/22)
League leader: HBP (27, 2021)
Mariner history is replete with bad trades—Varitek and Lowe for Slocumb, Choo for Broussard, Tino and Nellie for Hitchcock and Davis—but most if not all came in the pre-Jerry Dipoto era. Trader Jerry's deals have been mostly solid, but the one that netted Ty France will go down as one of the best by any GM for any franchise. In the mini-season of 2020, San Diego was making a big push for the postseason and wanted catcher Austin Nola from the M's. Dipoto wasn't looking to move Nola and said to the Padres, if you want him you're going to have to blow me away with an offer. So they did, offering not only catching prospect Luis Torrens, former first-round draft pick Taylor Trammell, and relief prospect Andres Muñoz for Nola and some problematic relievers, but 2019's Triple-A player of the year in France. A little minor negotiating and just like that the Mariners acquired the next Edgar Martínez for very little cost (and this time without keeping him buried in the minors).
France is the best pure hitter the M's have seen since Edgar, seemingly destined to win a batting title or three before all is said and done. He hits everyone. Lefties, righties, power pitchers, finesse guys, veterans, rookies. Though he himself lost rookie status after being promoted in ’19, 2021 was his first full season in the big leagues, and the only time he ever slumped was due to injury. One of the league-leading 27 times he was hit by a pitch was in late April when a Dustin May fastball nailed him on the left forearm. It didn't seem like a big deal in the moment, but it proved to be a very painful and pesky ailment that made it difficult for France to even grip a bat, much less swing one. Still, he attempted to play through it for over three weeks before accepting he needed to rest his wrist and went on the injured list. It was during that few weeks that France had his only bad stretch, while playing in pain. Once healed, he was a hitting machine once more, remarkably consistent through the end of the season. The lines of demarcation are really something: .312/.411/.525 in 17 games pre-injury; .157/.263/.229 in 20 games while injured; .309/.378/.468 in 115 games after the brief IL stint.
A disciple of the late Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who coached him at San Diego State University, France learned by doing rather than studying technique. He describes his introduction to Gwynn's tutelage this way: “[I] show up that first day and all that he says is, ‘Get in position and take your best swing,’” France said. “[I was] like, ‘What? I’m going to need more than that. You have to help me. I came here for you to make me great and this is all you’re telling me?’” He relates the story with a smile, going on to explain that Gwynn’s words ended up having a broader lesson in them. “When you think about hitting, the simpler you can make it, the easier it is,” France said. “That was his way of simplifying hitting for me. And you know what? To this day, I still think that: Get in position and take a good swing.”
This season France begins the campaign with a regular defensive position, having taken over first base after Evan White got hurt last season and showing a prowess there no one expected. He'd had some experience at first before, but was a third baseman for the bulk of his college and minor-league career and San Diego thought him expendable because he was blocked at third there by Manny Machado. The only knock on him as a first baseman is that he's right-handed; lacking the natural lefty advantage to the position, he still impressed everyone with his range and mobility and many feel that had he been there for the entire season he'd have been a contender for the Gold Glove award. Should White make good on his potential after rehabbing from his own injuries and getting some belated development time at Triple-A, France may find himself back at the hot corner, but for now he appears set as the everyday first-sacker for all of ’21 and perhaps beyond.