When I was checking the projections for each position, I saw some names that stood out to me with projections as league average hitters. Those names will warrant future features on the Rookie Card Review. When it comes to the Hobby, league average is the cutoff if you're looking for cardboard gold. In some of my Rookie Card Reviews, you will see me mention these Steamer projections. While obviously most may not get the playing time in the near future to rack up the projected counting stats in MLB, many of them are knocking on the door.
Today, we take a look at a Padres Infielder who has possessed an above average bat. But, it hasn't yet broken out at the MLB level. The projections seen to believe 2020 holds good things for this young ballplayer.
A Nice Diamond in the Rough Infielder: Ty France
When I was looking at those 2020 projections for second basemen, I found that nestled in between Asdrubal Cabrera and Brian Dozier for a projected 100 wRC+ is Ty France. No longer really considered a prospect, the 25 year old France has seen some major league action for his hometown San Diego Padres. It hasn't really been that glorious for the infielder, whose natural position of third base is currently occupied by $300 million man Manny Machado. Because he can also play second decently enough and is a bat-first player anyway, France is intriguing from a hobby perspective, regardless of where the Padres find a place to stick his bat.
Ty France Has Hit in the Minor Leagues
It's not like this projection for France comes out of nowhere. He's been a well above-average player in the minor leagues, with an incredible explosion in AAA - thanks in part to the "rabbit ball" - in 2019. France posted a video game slash line of .399/.477/.770 that led to a ridiculous wRC+ mark of 196 - or 96 percent above league average.
While that absurd unsustainable power surge does inform that projection, France has been a 20 to 30 percent above league average hitter in his career. But in his first major league action, France mustered just a .234/.294/.402 slash line. His walk rate slipped to 4.5 percent and his strikeout rate jumped to 24.4 percent as he chased some bad pitches (30% outside swing rate).
Of course, there were good signs from his 69 game stint. He did hit 7 home runs in 201 plate appearances. His hard hit percentage was 41.9 percent, well above the league average of 34.5. But, StatCast didn't show anything else encouraging in his profile other than he is doing what he can to lift the ball - 15.1 degree average launch angle. Interestingly, France actually hit breaking balls much better than fastballs. It's possible that he just hadn't yet adjusted to major league fastballs. If he can, watch out…
That brings us to our Ty France rookie card review.
As of this writing, there are only two rookie autos for Ty France. The bad news is that they are both Panini - whose lack of full MLB licensing despite high quality cards greatly hurts their appeal. But, Panini did see fit to include France as low number autos in both the high-end National Treasures and Chronicles sets.
The National Treasures is the better card of the two, having both a patch and an autograph. There are two versions of the card, one numbered to 99, and the other - a gold parallel - numbered to 49. The Chronicles autograph, part of the Obsidian Autographs subset, is limited to several colored parallels, each numbered to 99 copies, 50 copies, 25 copies, 10 copies, 5 copies, and a one-of-one. But relic auto combos win. Understandably, these two cards haven't yet sold for much, but they do have interest.
For our exercise, though, we'll focus on his "true" rookie card, the 2019 Topps Update #US129 - his first ever Topps card. It's sold on eBay for around $0.75. however, the parallels have fared much better. In particular the Walgreens Exclusive Yellow, Gold, Black #'d to /67, Vintage Stock #'d to /99, and Independence Day #'d to /76 have all been selling. The Independence Day card sold for as much as $13 in early November 2019. So, there's a demand for this guy's true rookie.
Will Ty France Get Consistent At-Bats in 2020?
The real issue for France is his path to playing time. On the official Padres depth chart, he's behind Machado at third base and is buried behind Luis Urias, Greg Garcia, and Ian Kinsler at second base. However, he's also listed as Eric Hosmer's backup at first base.
Of course, Eric Hosmer's projection is quite similar to France. In fact, were it not for his albatross of a contract, it wouldn't be hard to see France replace him at first. Their Steamer 600 projections are so remarkably similar. But the Padres are paying Hosmer $18 million a year to be a replacement level player without much upside in sight.
For Ty France to gain much more hobby relevance, he needs to find a route to playing time. But, if he does and hits consistently enough, his Topps Update card could get interesting in a hurry. Because it's his only true rookie card, it will have a large amount of demand if he delivers on that projection.