Ty France Landed On The IL, Ty(ler) Locklear Got Called Up

On Friday, Ty France broke the Mariners all-time record for most Hit By Pitches, taking Edgar Martinez’s crown in relatively quick fashion. That’s a neat, albeit random record to own. On the downside, though, he was hit on the heel, which resulted in a hairline fracture, landing him on the IL for an indeterminate amount of time.

That being said, it doesn’t sound incredibly serious, so I wouldn’t expect him to be gone for much longer than a couple weeks.

Enter Tyler Locklear, who is only one of a few players from the 2022 draft to make it to the Major Leagues so far.

This is an interesting move for the Mariners, because they have very little – if any – Major League-ready hitters down in the minors who could potentially help out this season. We’ve tried Ryan Bliss, and through 23 at bats, he looks somewhat promising, but I’m not holding my breath. Jonatan Clase has already had a couple cups of coffee with the M’s through two-plus months, with very little to show for it. A couple other guys had brief call-ups without any sort of legitimate shot to produce. And we even picked up Victor Robles after he was let go by the Nationals; it’s probably pretty safe to say he’s shot.

The point is, I don’t know if there’s any help on the horizon that we can promote internally, or pick up via the MLB scrap heap. Our only real shot in 2024 is Tyler Locklear, and indeed, he’s no guarantee.

What prospect is, though? Even the best of the best have some growing pains. Tyler Locklear has produced every step of the way. Predictably, he raked in college. We took him in the second round in 2022; he proceeded to dominate at the lower A level that very same year. He was promoted to high-A Everett in 2023, crushed it there, and proceeded to get promoted again in 2023 to AA, where he finally met his match, but still showed out well.

That brings us to 2024, where he started at AA and took another step forward, which is impressive given that league isn’t nearly as forgiving to hitters as the PCL. You can argue AA has the best of the best prospects across the Major Leagues, but there’s still something to be said for getting your feet wet in AAA, where pitchers tend to throw more breaking pitches, and are in general a little more savvy on the ways of getting guys out. Tyler had 10 games in Tacoma, where he kept right on rolling.

Given this trajectory, and his massive minor league success, it was only a matter of time before the Mariners gave him a chance. We already moved Mitch Garver to backup catcher (making Seby Zavala’s roster spot as worthless as can be), so unless Garver and France balled out the rest of the way, Locklear was always going to at least get a look.

Which brings us back to France’s IL stint.

There are certainly internal options for the Mariners at the Major League level to fill in at first base. Luke Raley could play first, Dylan Moore can seemingly do it all, one would think Garver could handle it in a pinch. But, the time feels right. It’s early June; we’ve got a month and a half before the trade deadline. Let’s see what Locklear can do, because if he continues tearing the cover off the ball, that makes France or Garver expendable.

Ty France is an interesting case for the Mariners. He’s got one more Arb year in 2025 before he’s an unrestricted free agent. He’s also turning 30 in July. Through last year, he was on a steady decline in his offensive production, which led to him going to Driveline in the offseason and vastly revamping his swing and approach at the plate.

In spite of some peaks and valleys, France has unquestionably been a better hitter in 2024 than he was last year. That being said, his batting average is about the same (.251 compared to .250 in 2023), his OBP is worse (.329 vs. .337), and while his slugging has drastically improved (.403 over .366), it’s still considerably lower than it was in 2022 (.437), 2021 (.445), and 2020 (.468). France is earning just under $7 million this year, with a likely marginal increase for 2025; is that someone we absolutely NEED to hang onto?

That’s a tough question, because we can’t dismiss the fact that France has the third-highest slugging percentage on the team right now (behind Luke Raley and Dylan Moore). He also has the fourth-highest batting average, and the third-highest OPS. He’s second on the team in homers (tied with Garver, oddly enough, at 7), and is tied for the lead in doubles with Dylan Moore at 11. He’s not the best, most-productive hitter on the team, but he’s up there in just about all of the major categories. If you’re going to make France a cap casualty at the trade deadline – to help bring in other hitters – you better be DAMN sure you can replace his production at the lineup.

I would be curious to know what the Mariners’ front office feels about Locklear. Do they see him as The Future? Is this a scenario where maybe we flip France and a prospect for a rental like Pete Alonso? Presumably, there would be other salary offsets besides France, to get that deal done. But, knowing there’s a virtual certainty that we will never re-sign Alonso, could Locklear slot into first base heading into Spring Training 2025?

Or, might this call-up be a showcase of sorts, to see if we can package Locklear with someone else to bring in a hitter at a more-valuable position, like third base or left field?

Either way, Locklear had his first Major League start on Sunday, and went 1 for 4 with a double, RBI, and run scored (all in the 7th inning). He came out swinging from his very first at bat, and he ended up helping out in a big way, as the M’s salvaged one game of the 3-game set (not for nothing, but we should’ve won 2 of 3 in Kansas City, if we didn’t blow Friday’s game 10-9, after scoring 7 runs in the first and holding an 8-0 lead in the top of the 4th).

I’ll be rooting for him like crazy. Am I confident he’ll succeed? Absolutely not. That has nothing to do with Locklear, and everything to do with every other minor league bat I’ve ever seen called up to the bigs. The failure rate is quite high!

But, some dudes just know how to hit. It’s a shame that Locklear will be denigrated for “only” playing first base. I’ll say this: you still need guys to hit there. And I want a guy who not only looks the part – so many players “look the part” – but also has the numbers to back it up. Locklear has the numbers. He looks the part. So, I wouldn’t be too quick to give up on him, or flip him for a rental.

He COULD be the real deal. I hope the Mariners know what they’re doing.