A local kid, San Diego State Aztec, a thirty-fourth round pick, who was one of the best players on the short-season team that came within a game of winning the Northwest League Championship last year.
Last year he hit .294/.425/.391 for the Dust Devils while playing at first base, a position he never played after hitting .336/.428/.470 for the red-and-black in his junior year.
This season while playing at Fort Wayne he started of hot hitting .282/.453/.408 in April before slumping in May and June. Despite the slump, his overall .401 on-base percentage was one of the best in the Midwest League. Also, being hit by a league-leading 16 balls didn’t hurt either.
“He’s a baseball player,” said his manager Anthony Contreras who managed France at both Tri-Cities and Fort Wayne. “You can play him nearly anywhere in the field and he always has a good idea of what he is trying to do at the plate.”
Despite playing first base last year, France profiles best as a third baseman going forward but is versatile enough to play first, probably second and a corner outfield spot. This season he has even pitched, something he hadn’t done since high school, logging four innings with a spotless 0.00 ERA.
We caught up with him a day before his promotion to High-A Lake Elsinore to talk about his background and mainly the affect that his former coach at SDSU, and all-time Padres’ great, Tony Gwynn had on him.
You are from West Covina, California. How did you get to San Diego State?
Ty France: I played for a travel ball team called the San Gabriel Valley Arsenal that was able to play in a lot of big tournaments. One was in Jupiter, Florida and some of the guys from SDSU saw me before my sophomore year and I committed to them.
How many years did you play for Tony Gwynn?
Ty France: Two of my three years there; love the guy. It still really gets to me that he is not with us anymore.
As a position player it must have been fascinating to talk to him about hitting.
Ty France: When you first got there he made hitting seem to easy because he was so good at it. After awhile when you had time to process everything he was saying - and there was a lot of information - you started to realize that if you really listened, it could be easier.
Of course he was on another level, but it was really helpful for my career.
At SDSU you played third base and first?
Ty France: I just played third at State.
You were a late round draft pick with still one year of eligibility. Why did you go?
Ty France: To get the chance to play for the same team that Coach Gwynn played for is a dream come true. It was also the right fit at the right time for me.
Also my dream has always been to play in the big leagues.
When you get to Tri-Cities as a low round pick what was your mentality?
Ty France: [laughs] I have nothing to lose. At that point I wasn't thinking of the draft anymore, I knew I was good enough to play and that I was here for a reason. I just wanted to go out and compete and see what I could do,
I needed up playing first base, a position that I had never played before. I kind of took it and ran with it.
It’s easy for us to write that you “just wanted to compete” but how were you able to handle the pressure? As a low round pick you only get so many chances.
Ty France: For me I just try to slow the game down, which is a big thing that Coach Gwynn preached. I try to do things right both in the games and when I am preparing to play. It helps to get your mind right so it doesn’t spin a thousand miles an hour when you are trying to concentrate.
Under Coach Gwynn coaching the mental side of the game was really important. Whenever I feel a pressure situation, I try to step out, breathe and then get back in there.
For so many players one statistic usually stands out; for you it’s on-base percentage. Is the ability to have such a good strike zone judgement something you developed or have always had?
Ty France: I think it has always been there but I also got a lot better at it in college. One, you can’t be afraid to be hit by a pitch, which I think I have shown I can do here [laughs]. Also you have to be selective in getting your pitch to hit and putting a good swing on it.
I can still hear Coach in my head telling me that when I am at the plate.
How did your off-season change as a pro?
Ty France: It was my first full off-season, so I didn’t really know how to go about it. The big thing I wanted to do was to get in better shape so I could play 140 games. That was the main focus for me.
What are the main differences that you notice from the Northwest League to here?
Ty France: The pitching is just better. Guys can throw a little harder and have better secondary stuff. At the beginning of the year I started out well but lately I’ve been getting out on too many pitcher’s strikes - which is something that I am going to change in the second half.
What position do you feel most comfortable at?
Ty France: I’ve always been a third baseman since my freshman year of high school but first base is fun too. There is always something going on and you are more involved in almost every play.
Did it take much time to get used to the mitt?
Ty France: No, I used one pretty much the same size at third, so not too much.
What is the biggest part of your game you are looking to improve upon for the rest of the year?
Ty France: Probably the mental side. When things aren’t going my way to try to stay positive and realize the kind of player that I know I am to help get me out of that rut.