I would like to preface this article by thanking Kohl Franklin for his time in answering my questions.
Over the last handful of years, the Chicago Cubs’ front office has centered a rebuild around drafting high impact college hitters, often at the expense of selecting pitchers. In the years leading up to the Cubs’ historic 103-win, World Series Championship season in 2016, the Cubs selected names like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ with their first round picks.
Immediately following the rise of those names into stardom at the highest level, the Cubs’ front office shifted their draft philosophy to a more pitcher-oriented approach. Two drafts ago, the Cubs selected seven pitchers with their first eight picks (ten rounds), with another eight pitchers coming off the boards to the Cubs in the same number of rounds in 2017.
Last year, Chicago took a more hybrid approach to the draft, selecting three position players (a shortstop and two outfielders) with their first three picks. It wasn’t until pick 78 that the Cubs took their first pitcher, selecting five total in the first ten rounds of action.
One of those hurlers selected was high-school right-hander Kohl Franklin, taken in the sixth round. At just 18 years of age, Franklin was one of the younger participants in the Arizona League, playing for the Cubs’ rookie level affiliate following the draft.
In what was a small sample size, just 8.2 innings, Franklin did not find much success, instead posting a 6.23 ERA across five appearances (three starts). As we all know, however, a player’s first taste of action as a professional is never a good indicator of how the remainder of his career will go. Just look at Bryant’s 0-for-5 performance in his very first professional game as a great example.
Moreover, players will often learn much about themselves in the Arizona League and subsequent minor league levels that will transform them into serviceable major league players. At least that is the goal. Bottom line, learning is more important than performance, at least in the stage of his career Franklin currently finds himself in.
When asked his biggest takeaway from his first exposure to professional baseball Franklin had this to say. “Biggest take away is for sure getting ahead in the counts and making sure to pitch backwards a lot. My change-up helped me a ton with that.” Indeed, Franklin’s change-up may be his best pitch, an offering that gets good separation in terms of speed from his fastball.
— Prep Baseball Report (@prepbaseball) June 5, 2018
As the above clip shows, Franklin’s change-up sits in the lower-80’s, representing an eight to nine MPH separation to a fastball that tops out in the low-90’s. For his size, Franklin’s fastball is lacking in velocity. The right-hander stands 6-4 but weighs just 190 pounds, according to baseball-reference. That seems to be something Franklin is working hard to change. “This off-season I’ve been working really hard to get stronger and gain weight.”
Perhaps as that weight and muscle comes, so will the velocity on what Franklin suggests is his best commanded pitch. With another 20-25 pounds, Franklin may very well find three or four ticks on his fastball. Already, however not seen in the above clip, his fastball has been clocked at 93 MPH, but tends to sit a little lower. Getting up into the 210-215 range would help the young righty achieve his goal of wanting to throw harder, “I would love to be sitting 94-96 MPH.”
Not only would that increased velocity help carry his fastball which, as shown above, seems to have a natural tailing action, but it would help his change-up play better and eliminate the need to start every count with an off-speed pitch. Additionally, with the way baseball is shifting more toward increased velocity, unless your name is Kyle Hendricks, an elite fastball is essential to success at the highest level.
Already, Franklin is beginning to see increased skill from hitters when compared to his time at Broken Arrow high-school in Oklahoma. “A huge jump, it’s tough to throw it by these dudes. That’s why you have to pitch backwards and throw your off-speed more to make your fastball look faster.”
In order to stick as a starting pitcher, it is not enough to feature just two different pitches, something that may have worked for many high-school and even college pitchers. Instead, unless you wish to be relegated to the bullpen somewhere along the lines, pitchers need to develop a third offering, and for Franklin, that’s a curveball.
As seen in the above clip, Franklin can spin a curve, often sitting in the low-70’s and featuring a nice 12-6 movement. With progression, the curveball will likely become a solid third option for Franklin and would round out a trio of good pitches offered by the right-hander. “My curveball is actually becoming more consistent, other than that, those are really the only three pitches I am currently working on.” That said, Franklin did hint at the possibility of adding a cut-fastball, giving him a heater that would move to both sides of the plate, adding to the deception of the pitch.
Moving away from his development as a pitcher, I wanted to get more insight on the personal side of the game for Kohl. Growing up, Kohl claimed his favorite player was “definitely Nolan Ryan,” but scoffed at the idea that he was the reason behind his desire to pitch. “Ha, and that had a little nudge but I just always loved competing and the rush it gave me, it’s like a feeling I crave so pitching fit perfect.”
i love the feeling i get when im on the mound, it’s just something different.
— Kohl Franklin (@kohlrf) January 24, 2019
That feeling, combined with a lineage of major league pitchers in the family, likely gave Kohl all the drive necessary to become a successful pitcher in high-school and hopefully at the big league level. You see, Kohl’s uncle, Ryan Franklin enjoyed a 12-year major league career (1999-2011) split between four different teams, even earning an All-Star Game bid in 2009. Ryan’s brother and Kohl’s father, Jay Franklin entered the league at 18 in 1971, with a first round pedigree, having been selected second overall by the San Diego Padres.
However, Jay would pitch just 5.2 innings in the majors, sticking around as a minor league farm hand until 1977. Now, Jay represents his son as his agent along with major league talent like Archie Bradley and Dylan Bundy. When asked if his father and uncle had an impact on him Kohl didn’t hesitate to offer this.
“Yes they did and it was great because they would always guide me and teach me things to work on. Especially my dad when I was younger, we would work day in and day out. He was always helping and being there for me when I struggled. Baseball is a hard sport and you’re not always going to come out and kill it. He taught me to pretty much forget about it and move on, and get back to working. I definitely wouldn’t be in the position I am today without him.”
What Kohl is, is a professional pitcher for the Cubs with a $540,000 signing bonus in his back pocket and the dream of becoming a major league pitcher. When asked why he chose the Cubs over his commitment to Oklahoma, Kohl said simply, “I felt like I was ready to pursue my professional career,” also stating that the decision was 100 percent his.
As a sixth round draft pick out of high-school, Franklin will likely have a longer road to the bigs than say Alex Lange (first round pick by the Cubs in 2017 out of LSU). Perhaps that is a good thing as it gives the youngster ample time to hone his craft and stake his claim among the many talented pitchers in the Cubs’ organization.
That road, however long it may be, doesn’t seem to have an impact on Kohl, “right now, I just want to put all of my focus on baseball.” Focus will be key, as will development. With two former big leaguers in the family and as good of a minor league program as the Cubs have, it would not surprise me if we see Kohl’s name at Wrigley Field in the near future.
Kohl, however, has already seen his name there, accepting an offer by the Cubs to visit after draft day. “It was my second time being there [at Wrigley]. It’s amazing, you can just feel the tradition and all of the legends that have played there as soon as you walk in. It was so crazy. It was a blessing and I am so happy to be with this organization.”
A lot of hard work separates Kohl from seeing his name there a second time, but the now 19-year-old seems poised to make his mark in 2019 and beyond, offering this when asked of his goals for this season. “Keep my faith strong in God, work my butt off and grow as a pitcher and a person and do everything in my power to move my way up in the system.”
Again, thanks to Kohl Franklin for taking the time to answer my questions.
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