After entering the 2021 season where he was expected to be a utility infielder and occasional DH, Ty France was thrust into the role of everyday first baseman when Evan White suffered a hip injury that resulted in a season-ending surgery. What was supposed to be the year for White, ended up as a career-altering year for another young Mariner: the man who replaced him, Ty France.
I think most Mariners fans hoped that when France took over at first base, he would just not make mistakes that cost the team runs. With his background at third base and fans having seen him play more second than first before this year, I don’t think many expected France to be the kind of defensive asset he turned out to be. In fact, as Mariners PR pointed out on Twitter, France was rated as the best defensive first baseman in baseball in 2021 by FanGraphs. Not bad for a fill-in.
What really stood out about Ty France in the 2021 season was his consistency at the plate. Outside of a rough month of May (during which he was recovering from a brutal HBP to the arm), it felt like France was always on base. He did finish the year with the third-most runs scored on the team behind only J.P. Crawford and Mitch Haniger, but more importantly, he kept innings going when those two got on ahead of him.
Whether it was with clutch hitting or good old-fashioned plate discipline, France seemingly always found a way to get the next man up to the plate. His elevated slash line with runners in scoring position (RISP: .321/.384/.479 vs. Empty: .293/.372/.418) is reflective of just how effective he was at keeping innings alive.
I could see this upcoming season shaking out in a few different ways for France:
Best case scenario, he repeats his stellar defensive performance and after a year of exposure, gets his due and adds a Gold Glove to his resume. On the offensive side, I think France has more raw power than he’s given credit for. I don’t know that it will happen this season, but I could see him developing that power a little later on in his career, similar to Haniger and Seager. That said, I do think he’s capable of a >.300 BA, 25 HR season, which would put him right in the conversation with the best first basemen in baseball.
Worst case, 2021 was a flash-in-the-pan year for France and he ends up being what everyone expected when they initially brought him over: a solid utility infielder with a nice contact bat. I don’t expect that to be the case though. Based on what he showed us over the course of last season, I anticipate another strong year from France.
If I had to put a number on it, assuming he plays the full season and remains healthy, I would guess his end-of-the-year slash line looks something like .285/.350/.450 with maybe 20 homers. Considering how often he gets walked (or HBP), that OBP could even go up a little higher, but ultimately I think these numbers are a reasonable expectation to have for a guy that played like a Top-10 first baseman in his first full season at the position.