Young righthander oozes projection with potential to be impressive mid-rotation starter
How acquired: MLB Draft 2018
Kohl Franklin was primed for a breakout season in 2020 with a slot in a full season rotation lined up. As a 6’4″, lean projectable righthander with three pitches he can land in the strikezone, Kohl is a dream for the Cubs Player Development staff. The Cubs have struggled to develop a significant starting pitching prospect for years, but with vast improvements in pitch design and biomechanics in the organization, Franklin becomes one of several legitimate prospects on the rise.
Mechanics and Control
Franklin is a long lanky righthander with a repeatable delivery despite a lot of moving pieces. He comes set in a balanced position and like most Cubs farmhands, Franklin has a long arm path. Kohl hides the ball well, but doesn’t incorporate a lot of deception in his pitching motion. Kyle Hendricks would be impressed with how quickly Franklin works. For a 19 year old facing recent college draftees, I was impressed with his control. He consistently works around the plate and he’ll give up some walks, but he doesn’t get mechanically out of sync as compared to his peer group. Command still a smidge behind control, but you can see the foundation for improvements in both as he matures. I’ll avoid putting a particular projection on either control/command in someone this young (especially without seeing in the past year), but both are encouraging.
Fastball: It has some zip. Even in 2019, Franklin’s fastball would be consistent low 90s with good movement. His fastball has some natural run to his “arm side” (meaning it’ll tail into right handed hitters). When Franklin is going well he’ll throw the pitch on the outside to righties and let it creep back onto the plate. That will appear like nibbling, especially in the low minors (see the control/command above), and Kohl can be guilty of it, but it’s a good use of the fastball. The most encouraging aspect of the fastball is the climbing velocity. What started out as high 80s when drafted, now tops off at mid 90s. There’s hope for even more as he continues to grow. I have this pitch as above-average right now.
Changeup: Franklin was drafted with a promising feel for a changeup. While it is still developing, his changeup is coming along. It’s a low 80s offering, with good fading action. It plays off Franklin’s natural movement on his fastball. Unlike the breaking ball, he doesn’t telegraph the pitch so it plays up with a 10 mph separation from the fastball. This is an above-average pitch with plus potential.
Curveball: Franklin can really snap a few curveballs. He’s always had a feel for spin as he was one of many pitchers the Cubs drafted from 2017-2018 who relied on a curveball as their offspeed specialty. When he got to pro ball though he’s become an adopter of the Cubs “spike curve” that they’ve incorporated into pitching repertoires throughout the organization. Especially as Kohl experiences velo gains with his fastball, the hammer curve can play off fastballs higher up in the zone. My only concern is the views from 2019 still show him “telegraphing” the pitch. The arm slot appears to be more over the top. He already throws from a high 3/4 delivery. I’ll reserve judgment on the arm slot changes as those could be different now, but it’s an average pitch at present.
Slider: There’s been talk that Franklin was working on a slider prior to the shutdown. But the progress of that is unknown.
Kohl Franklin offers the upside of a mid-rotation starter on a playoff team at present. Pitchers of this level are often the best pitcher on mediocre teams and capable of putting up consistent 2.5-3 WAR annual performances. If that at all sounds like a disappointment, it shouldn’t be. This is the level of a player that would start twice in a 7-game playoff series and you’d feel good about your chances. This current projection is based on his 2019 performances and limited video that Kohl has posted on his social media accounts. If Franklin debuts an effective slider, that could improve the overall projection. Recently, Matt Dorey, VP of Player Development for the Chicago Cubs, noted Kohl had some of the highest upside in the system. That’s enormous praise and enigmatic of the work that Franklin has exhibited during the shutdown and at instructs.