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Cubs Prospect Perspective: Christian Franklin

He dropped in the draft, but could wind up exceeding expectations.

Christian Franklin
Courtesy University of Arkansas

In case you’d forgotten, the Cubs drafted 21st in the first round last cycle. As I prepared for the 2021 Draft, I did what I usually do. I took a gander at the top draft options. Among the names, Christian Franklin was on the list. I quite enjoy locating players on the list of players that make sense to be a primary follow. Pegging a player somewhat likely to be initially “in the range” and playing “a position that makes sense” shortens the list. Tracking high school games are virtually impossible, so college players are the go-to. Franklin, a center fielder for Arkansas, checked enough boxes. ‘Forced’ to follow Arkansas games, other names became familiar, or moreso. One of them was catcher Casey Opitz, who the Cubs drafted in the eighth round. This is my prospect preview on Franklin.

Christian Franklin, outfielder

Born November 30, 1999, Overland Park, Kansas.
2021 Draft Pick (4th Round, Cubs), University of Arkansas

Franklin was getting revved in 2020, the second banana in the Arkansas lineup, behind second overall pick Heston Kjerstad, who went to the Orioles. The baseball universe that shut down included college games. How well did players in college develop? That’s a big shrug. Franklin still had to prove which position he really played. He would be the Razorbacks’ center fielder in 2021. I didn’t know how he’d develop. How many innings of MLB center field does it take for you to be confident assessing someone with honest conviction? Franklin’s arm was good enough. He was a minor league center fielder, if not higher.

His hitting in 2021 wasn’t good enough to retain first-round status, and the tumble began. His .964 OPS in the SEC, with the defensive adjustment for center, was totally acceptable for the second round, but the tumble continued. When the Cubs grabbed him in the fourth round, I was ecstatic. The Cubs are now drafting college outfielders who hit on the second day of the draft. For too many years, they’d tossed darts at pitchers with a combination of “injury flags” and wildness, waiting until far later to gusto out on outfielders who could hit. At least, they would hit to some level or extent. Then, with the addition of more outfielders who could hit (Kevin Alcantara in the Anthony Rizzo trade and Alexander Canario in the Kris Bryant trade), and the explosion by Nelson Velázquez post-draft, the Cubs actually have some outfielders who can hit it into the stands, as well as up the gaps.

One thing about Franklin that surprised me was his patience. As a junior in the SEC, he walked 44 times and fanned 78. He was also plunked 12 times, over 278 college trips. Off to pro ball, in 101 trips, he walked 20 times, fanning 25, with five more hit by pitches. For whatever reason, he was getting free bases with more regularity. Not what I’d expected.

Franklin is an incomplete package, so far. His swing plane is being tinkered with, as we speak. Will the adjustments he makes in the off-season help Franklin have a better season in 2022 and beyond? As baseball is a game of adjustments, that angle seems occasionally underplayed. Perhaps “Is his swing malleable?” or “Does he adjust well?” ought to be a larger part of the discussion for hitters. Of Franklin, of Patrick Wisdom, and of players in general. I know enough to admit I don’t know. I make a case, and check on what’s happening once games resume.

I have no idea what Franklin will do in 2022. However, along with most of the Cubs’ July trade transactions, he’ll be playing. In actual games, with actual announcers, on an audio stream on your computer. Some games will have video feeds, but I’ll likely be listening along to a game somewhere, instead. And assessing which bat or arm seems better today, because of what I hear. Not that my hearing determines effectiveness, but what I hear, I’ll try to pass along. In Franklin’s case, I’ll be very intrigued to learn every step of the way.