One of the great things about having the Eugene Emeralds in the Cubs system is that they’ve got MiLB.tv capability and play all their games out west. Thus, prospect-hounds are able to get early looks at scores of players who are still in the earliest stages of their respective professional careers.
Right-hander Kohl Franklin, the nephew of former big leaguer Ryan Franklin and son of baseball agent Jay Franklin, is one such prospect this summer. A pretty dominant campaign for the Ems has garnered him a lot of attention and boosted him to No. 15 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Cubs prospects.
6th Round Pick 2018
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
ETA – 2021-22
The Cubs were able to nab Franklin in the the sixth round of the 2018 draft (188 overall) with a $540,000 bonus that was on par with a third-round pick. That was a bit of a risk for a guy who had missed most of his senior season of high school with a broken foot, but it appears to be paying off.
Given his abbreviated prep career, his debut season in the Cubs organization was little more than just getting his feet. Franklin got got his butt handed to him in a couple July outings (33.75 ERA in 1.1 IP), but bounced back in August with a 1.23 ERA in 7.1 innings over three games.
This year, however, he looks like a machine who goes out and seemingly the same stats every outing: Five innings pitched, one run, five strikeouts, maybe a walk, and a couple of hits. He’s got a 1.52 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 29.2 innings and has yet to allow more than one earned run in a game.
Franklin was sitting 94-96 in his first couple of starts, but had settled in at 92-95 most nights and has a plus changeup that’s very advanced for someone of 19. It has some hard arm side fade to it and it really ties up right-handed hitters while going down and away to lefties.
His curve at the beginning of the year had quite a big loop to it. It has more bite to it now with a sharper downward break. Here’s a recent video that shows the “snap” it now has.
Kohl Franklin and his curveball. pic.twitter.com/iTNAAt1kha
— Itsacon (@thats_so_cub) July 24, 2019
“Our coordinator came and changed my grip on it around, so I’ve been throwing it more consistently for strikes now,” Franklin told CI‘s Daniel Shepard. “I went from a generic curveball to now more of a knuckle curve [and] I’ve been working on more fastball command and really tunneling my curveball with it.”
“The added (fastball) velo has helped a ton for sure. Our pitching coordinator helped me get more over my front leg this year in spring training and that was probably one of the biggest things.”
Franklin’s performance comes as no surprise to the Emeralds staff, as play-by-play announcer Pat Zajac explained to CI recently.
“Franklin’s a guy that when we first got into a Eugene and we’re sitting down with the coaching staff, one of the first questions we ask is, ‘Who are the guys this year? Who are the guys you think are going to make it to the higher levels and potentially pitch in the big leagues?'”
“Armando Gabino, our pitching coach, was like, ‘Kohl Franklin,that’s the guy. Hands down.’ Gambino described him as having already three plus pitches with his fastball, curveball, and changeup.”
More than just what Franklin throws, it’s how he throws that has drawn rave reviews. He has talked about pitching with a chip on his shoulder, like he’s got something to prove every time he steps out there, and it’s obvious to those who watch him every day.
“What makes him also exciting to watch is, not only does he have big league potential with his stuff, but also his demeanor and the way he carries himself on the mound is a ton of fun,” Zajac said. “He is absolutely fearless, incredibly aggressive up there, trusts his stuff, trusts his fastball especially. He’s not afraid to attack guys.
“He’s one of those guys you really wouldn’t expect that out of him. He’s a very laid back guy in the clubhouse, loves to crack a lot of jokes. He’s just a very comfortable laid-back personality. When he is on the mound, he is a different animal. If runners get on base, it doesn’t faze him. He’s coming right after guys.”
Without any prodding, Zajac dropped a little zinger at the end of the interview about the next step for Franklin.
“He’s been spectacular so far this season,” the announcer I’d expect, if he continues in the next couple of starts, that he is going to finish this year in South Bend.”
Whether he makes the jump to South Bend this year or in 2020, Franklin is probably the most polished pitcher the Cubs have had at the short-season level since Theo Epstein took over. Other guys have had good seasons and flashed great stuff at Eugene, but Franklin really knows how to pitch, how to get out of jams, and how to get hitters get themselves out.
He’s whiffing 10+ K/9 and he’s doing so with an approach beyond his age, which bodes well for his future as he’s able to incorporate additional professional instruction and experience.