Picture of Kohl Franklin by Rikk Carlson
One of the coolest stories so far this spring training was a live batting practice thrown by Kohl Franklin. After missing 2020 with the pandemic and 2021 with some shoulder issues, the now 22-year-old came back with a vengeance and sat 97-99 and also showed off a new curveball grip. The plus-plus change is still there and the young kid from Oklahoma looks to be back on track and ready to go for 2022.
Just exactly where he’s going to be is just one question of the day.
When we last saw Kohl pitch in a competitive game, it was a three inning start in South Bend in September 2019. He was promoted from Eugene where he was outstanding (2.31 ERA in 39 IP) as he flashed a low to mid 90s heater with a devastating changeup and a developing curve. That was at 19-years-old.
When it comes to where he should start this season, there are basically two choices. The first one is that he could start the year in Myrtle Beach, where it’s a little bit warmer. That would allow his shoulder to be eased into the season and not create so much stress because of the cold that can be found throughout the Great Lakes region. However, if he goes to Myrtle Beach, is that really going to test him? Will he be challenged in that setting or would he just basically be getting work in?
Plan B would be to put him in South Bend which would be an age appropriate level and one more in line with his experience and ability. From there, his production would determine where and when he would go next. The posting at High-A would seem to be the obvious choice especially since you could see South Bend pitching coach Tony Cougoule standing behind him in the aforementioned spring training session. Just from that one tidbit, South Bend is close to a certainty.
Over the next three weeks, Franklin is going to be getting his work in and it will be interesting to see how he does against his own teammates and it is extremely unlikely he would get the nod to go to Tennessee where most of the guys he played with in Eugene are going to be stationed. If you were a betting man, starting at Double-A would be like a 1% chance of getting that high up on the food chain. Going to Tennessee without having faced any kind of Class A hitters for more than three innings would be quite a leap.
What I find more curious is just exactly how fast Kohl is going to move. If he’s successful, he will be in South Bend for a couple of months. Unlike last year where South Bend seemed to face just five or six teams for most of the year, he’s going to be seeing a variety of squads and hitters every week and he’s going to have to constantly adapt. That may do more for his development than anything else.
In addition, I wonder what pitch counts or innings restrictions Kohl is going to have and for how long. As well, the pace at which he is stretched out should be fascinating. Will it take a month or two or even three? Or will they just let him go free after a month? There are a lot of questions that will get answered in time.
Just as equally important as where Kohl starts is where he ends the season.
The biggest concern for me is keeping his arm fresh and avoiding injury.
If he ends the year at Tennessee, I would be OK with that as it would allow him to complete two levels in one year. That puts him within shouting distance from Chicago.
Where he starts and where he ends in the big scheme of things will have to take a backseat to staying healthy. If everything works out, Kohl’s going to gain experience facing more advanced hitters. You have to remember we’re talking about a 22-year-old who has only thrown 50.2 innings as a professional. He’s going to need that arm built up over the next couple of years to be ready. Whether that’s in 2023 or 2024, that’s not the concern. 2022 should be about returning to health. Ideally, the goal is 120 innings in the minors. However, he’s only likely to get 80 this year, Let’s hope it is 80 healthy ones.