Christian Franklin didn’t play in the summer following his junior season at Rockhurst High School in Missouri in 2017. A hand injury kept him off the field in what typically is a critical year for prep players in determining their MLB draft statuses.
Major league teams didn’t meet Franklin’s signing bonus demands in the 2018 draft, causing the prep outfielder to honor his commitment to the University of Arkansas.
Arkansas is one of the premier college baseball programs. Head coach Dave Van Horn and his staff have established an exceptional player development program that has allowed Arkansas to compete at an elite level and prepare players for the professional ranks.
Over the last two years, the Razorbacks have had nine players selected in the draft. This year, Franklin headlines a talented Arkansas team and is a potential top-10 pick in July’s draft.
Franklin has made notable strides throughout his first two years at Arkansas while learning from outfielders Dominic Fletcher, the 75th pick in the 2019 draft, and Heston Kjerstad, the second overall pick in last year’s draft.
“It was cool to see those guys get drafted and play with them and see how they went about their work,” Franklin said. “It has inspired me to be like those guys. I learned a lot from Fletcher and Heston and (Casey Martin) were the big three I learned from. Hopefully, I can follow in their footsteps. I am excited for this year.”
Franklin started immediately as a freshman in 2019. He played center field in high school but slid over to left field his freshman year with Fletcher in center field and Kjerstad in right field.
Franklin experienced some growing pains but finished with a respectable .274 batting average with seven doubles, one triple, six home runs, and 34 RBIs. He struggled at times with his plate discipline, striking out 60 times while drawing 23 walks.
Last season, he was off to a scorching start until the COVID-19 pandemic caused the season to end prematurely. He posted a .381 batting average with four doubles, one triple, three home runs, and 11 RBIs in 63 at-bats in 16 games. He also showed an improved approach at the plate, recording 14 strikeouts compared to 10 walks.
Franklin is a 5-foot-11, 185-pound right-handed hitter with a balanced setup, quick hands, and solid bat speed at the plate. He has intriguing five-tool potential and offers an exciting mix of power and speed.
He has the natural strength to drive the ball to all parts of the field and consistently get to his power. He also is extremely athletic and has above-average speed that he has displayed on the bases, stealing 13 bases at Arkansas, and in the outfield.
“I would say my biggest strength is my ability to hit the ball with power to all fields,” Franklin said. “I think also using my speed to track down balls in center field is a strength. I think those two strengths are a good combo and my best tools.”
Despite Franklin’s intriguing tools, he does need to improve his plate discipline. He showed encouraging results in a limited sample size last year and spent the offseason refining his approach at the plate. He hopes to “cut down on his strikeouts this spring,” as he worked on his plate discipline and swing in the offseason, he said.
Defensively, Franklin believes he will stick at center field in the pro ranks. His speed helps him track down baseballs hit in the gaps. He wants to show even better arm strength and accuracy this spring.
“I know I have the speed to play center field,” Franklin said. “I am going to keep working on getting good jumps and taking good routes to balls. I think the one thing that I can work on even more is having accuracy with my arm. I have a strong arm, but I want to make sure I am accurate with it.”
Arkansas is one of the most consistent programs year-after-year in college baseball. The Razorbacks have made two consecutive trips to the College World Series, finishing as the runner-up in 2018.
The Razorbacks return a plethora of talent, headlined by Franklin. He believes the Razorbacks have the makeup and talent to capture the program’s first national championship this year.
“This team is going to win a ton of ballgames, and I think we can win a championship this year,” Franklin said. “Our pitching is going to play a super big part in our success this year. I am excited to get out there and see what this team can do.”
Read more in-depth stories on top 2021 MLB draft prospects here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for six years. He’s interviewed 253 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.