Kohl Franklin, Your Table is Ready

Social Navigation


Kohl Franklin, Your Table is Ready

Chicago Cubs

Kohl Franklin has not spent the past two and a half years working to throw the baseball harder.

He first worked to add weight. He then worked to add muscle. He worked to add mobility. And, most of all, he worked to get healthy. Velocity was never the principal objective. But it’s sure been a byproduct.

“I was just trying to do my best to strengthen everything around the spots I injured,” Kohl told me on the phone from Arizona last week while packing for South Bend, where he’ll open his High-A season today. “I guess the outcome was I added a bit to my velocity.”

We’ll have to excuse the understatement. In his first live batting practice during Spring Training, Franklin came out to the mound feeling good. He thought he was throwing hard, into the mid 90s perhaps, but it was only after he came off the mound that Kohl heard from Brennen Davis, Cole Roederer, Nick Padilla and Ryan Jensen that he’d actually sat 97-99 mph.

“You never really know what to expect with somebody coming back, finally getting the adrenaline back and facing hitters,” Brennen Davis told me about that live BP. “We didn’t think it was real at first. And then he did it again. It was awesome to be able to tell him.”

Subsequent outings only confirmed that Franklin had indeed graduated from “projectable” into a blue-chip prospect with big league stuff. Keith Law caught Franklin during Spring Training and said that his preseason ranking of Franklin at #15 felt “thirteen spots too low” (a sentiment that I feel the same about). And a scout, speaking to Baseball America, was perhaps even more effusive:

He’s super juiced up in Cubs camp. He’s like 96-99 with a firm fastball and an above-average changeup and above-average breaking ball. I stuffed him. I stuffed him super high. With the lost season and then obviously the injury (last year), he hasn’t really gotten a pathway in pro ball to consistent innings, but he’s super interesting. It’s a good delivery, good arm, athletic body and it’s real stuff. He’s really high for me. He’s the story right now of Cubs camp. He’s easily the best pitching prospect in their organization. He has some of the biggest stuff I’ve seen on the back fields this year.

In his second-to-last outing of the spring, against the Giants organization, Franklin was at his best. He commanded an upper 90s fastball, topped 100 twice, had great feel for the plus changeup that’s long been his hallmark pitch at 85-88 mph and mixed in a now-plus curveball at 82-84 mph. The breakout has been the talk of the Cubs organization, and for Franklin, such a re-affirming month after a long stretch away from the game.

https://twitter.com/kohlrf/status/1510018791824052225

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to get back out there, it’s hard for me to put into words how happy I am that I can go out and start competing again in front of people.”

The 2021 calendar year was a very tough one on Franklin. Three months before Spring Training started, Franklin tore his oblique and ninth rib while playing long-toss with a friend. When he got to Mesa and completed the on-board testing that each player does, team doctors flagged Franklin’s EKG. Ultimately, Franklin was diagnosed with Wolff Parkinson White (WPW) Syndrome, which Cubs fans might be familiar with after Brad Wieck’s history. Franklin wore a heart monitor for two months, and after involving a number of doctors and tests, it was ultimately determined that he wouldn’t need the same procedure that Wieck first had in 2020.

“This was also during the time that I’m ramping up, trying to throw and stuff, and it was just tough on me to stay focused with everything else going on,” Franklin said. “But everything was going good, the results were good.”

Two outings before Franklin was due to break camp and head to South Bend, he felt a sharp pinch while playing catch. A quick MRI confirmed that Franklin had a Grade 2 subscap strain in his shoulder, ending his season before it began. Instead of that long-awaited trip to High-A, Franklin would spend the summer with a host of other Cubs pitching prospects rehabbing in Arizona. While the Cubs have researched what they could be doing to decrease pitching injuries, the only benefit to the large number of simultaneous injuries was a really healthy atmosphere at the team’s rehab facility.

“When you’re hurt you always have a pretty bad mindset about how you go about your business during the day, and so having guys with positive mindsets that would come in and change moods it was huge to be around,” Franklin said.

Kohl also has his own baseball network from being around the game for so long. His father is an MLB agent, and Franklin said that he heard from established MLB pitchers like Adrian Houser, Archie Bradley, and Dylan Bundy during his rehab.

“It was a breath of fresh air when they would text me and tell me they were thinking about me and tell me to keep killing the process,” Franklin said. “It helped a ton.”

Now healthy and at the top of his game, Franklin restarts his quest to join those pitchers in the big leagues. The Cubs will surely have an innings limit on Franklin, though no one is yet revealing the specifics. While there’s been talk of adding a slider in the past, 2022 is simply about getting reps. The curveball, which was rebuilt following the 2019 season to be a power pitch, needs more experience against professional hitters.

https://twitter.com/kohlrf/status/1488687975185543169

After watching Brennen Davis win the Futures Game MVP (and then flying to Denver to celebrate with him, as Davis told us on The Bain Campaign), Franklin admits that he’d love to pitch in the Futures Game. He’ll be eligible for the 2022 Rule 5 Draft, which the Cubs will almost surely avoid by adding him to the 40-man roster after the season. This puts the big leagues on the radar for mid-2023, which would suggest an incredibly aggressive track this year, but don’t bet against it.

“He’s definitely elevated his game. He used to be a guy that commanded, threw a hard fastball, and had a wipeout changeup,” Davis said. “But now when you have upper nines in the tank? That makes you something really special.”


Latest from Bleacher Nation:


Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.