The Non-Linear Ascent of Seth Frankoff

Observing the Cubs over the past few seasons, it’s kind of hard not to get the sense of talented newcomers whizzing their way up the charts and assisting the big league club in a winning season. But not all prospects have such a rise through the system, as Cubs president Theo Epstein noted shortly after he was hired in saying “not all player development is linear”.

On a recent trip to Triple-A, one “non-linear” prospect, RHP Seth Frankoff, gave his views of the process. “I spent five and a half years with the Oakland A’s system”, said the 28 year old, “the A’s released me after I had an oblique injury and I was signed by the Dodgers”. During that time, Frankoff not only experienced the ups and downs of the promotional ladder, but the in and outs of the starting rotation. Part of that has to do with Frankoff’s repertoire. “I have a very aggressive approach, said Frankoff. I come at hitters with a fastball, curve, a cutter, and a change.”

Selected by the A’s in the 27th round of the 2010 MLB Draft, Frankoff began his roller-coaster ride as a starting pitcher, moving from the rookie league, to Short Season-A Vancouver, to Low-A Burlington, and back down to Short Season-A Vermont in his first two seasons. During that time, Frankoff started 30 out of 34 appearances and posted a 3.72 ERA over all.

In 2013, it was a new level and a new role for Frankoff, as he was moved to the bullpen for Advanced-A Stockton. The change seemed to suit Frankoff, as he posted a 2.78 ERA in 48 appearances. That was good enough for Frankoff to get an invite to the Arizona Fall League, where he was teammates with future Cubs Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Jorge Soler.

The next two seasons saw the 6-foot-5, 210-pounder bounce between Double-A and Triple-A, as he led Midland in saves in 2014 with 15 and a 2.41 ERA. In his final year with the A’s, Frankoff was a combined 0-2 with eight saves and a 3.71 ERA for 2015. It was during this time that Frankoff began playing in Venezuela during the winters, a practice that he has continued through this year.

“It’s a really great experience down there, with their wild fans and cheerleaders and such” said Frankoff of his time in Venezuela. “They treat ever game as if it were Game 7 of the World Series. From what I have heard, it is the closest you can get to the major league experience.”

For 2016, it was more moving around for Frankoff as a member of the Dodgers organization. With Double-A Tulsa, Frankoff returned to the rotation, starting ten of his 21 appearances before moving up to Triple-A Oklahoma City in July. All totaled, Frankoff was 4-4 with a 3.89 ERA before he was released.

It was this that caught the attention of his current teammates. “I try to be a good teammate, and many of them have been curious about the process. They want to know what it was like to be released and a free agent” said Frankoff. “You have to remain positive and keep on believing in yourself”.

That self confidence has paid off for Frankoff this season, as he has tossed 55.1 innings in 11 appearances (nine starts) and a 2.77 ERA. “Frankoff has the ability to be a real innings eater, whether in long relief or as a spot starter. He has been really consistent and has good stamina” said the Des Moines Register’s Tommy Birch.

Broadcaster Randy Wehofer was a little more conservative in his assessment. “I would like to see Frankoff get up to one hundred pitches more often. He is currently only going through the line-up twice, and I would like to see what happens once the other team adjusts to him. The next month will be critical for Frankoff.”

But the front office had seen enough of Frankoff to add him to the 40-man roster and select his contract from Iowa last Friday. In his first big league appearance, Frankoff went two innings and gave up a two-run home run to Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon. A day later, Frankoff was optioned back down to Iowa, and his non-linear path took yet another turn.

Stay tuned!

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  • I would like to thank John for suggesting I interview Frankoff during my visit to the Iowa Cubs.

  • I hope the guy makes it, I liked what I saw. You could see the emotion on the mound with his realization that he finally got there.
    Blackmon got him but he took that pitch almost off his ankles and the first hit was a banjo.

    There are ALOT of guys who could be the next big success story but don't get the chance, Hendricks and Edwards are good examples.
    .......right place at the right time......so true in life, too.....

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    In reply to Wickdipper:

    "It is better to be lucky than good." Though "good" certainly has its advantages, a player like Hendricks is a good example of a "right place at the right time. He came up in 2014 when the Cubs could afford to be patient with a young pitcher without a blazing fastball.

  • In reply to Wickdipper:

    I like pitchers that aren't afraid of being hit. Especially starters. Trust your stuff. Throw it over the plate. You'll get away with a fastball down the middle more often than you will throwing four pitches outside the zone trying to get guys to chase. I think too many guys from the minors come up and are afraid to throw too good of a strike or make a mistake so they pitch more carefully and start beating themselves by getting behind and walking hitters. Make the other team prove they can beat you. Once they prove it, then you start making adjustments. Don't make adjustments before you throw your first pitch.

    Frankoff strikes me as the type of guy that won't be intimidated by the experience and will come in and pitch to his game plan whether he is in the Majors, AAA, or Venezuala.

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    In reply to Michael Ernst:

    "Make the other team prove they can beat you."

    Yes. Hitting the ball is not easy. And the other team has to figure guess right before they can start "sitting" on a pitch. Then, as you say, at that point make an adjustment. But make them beat you. Don't beat yourself.

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    I think your first sentence is easy to miss. While high-end prospects like Bryant and Schwarber will rocket through a minor league system. Even players like Almora and Baez will do the "one-level-per-year" (roughly) thing it is not uncommon for a guy to take a while to "find himself. We've all seen guys that don't do well for one organization and then, suddenly, blossom when they enter a new environment. Or they simply gain enough experience. While they rarely become "stars" they can become useful "bit-players."

  • Nice story and summary Tom - I like what I have read (here & elsewhere) about this 'kid'.

    So - realistically - with the Cubs most likely going to have to replace Lackey next season in the rotation, and possibly Arrieta if he goes elsewhere for FA - is Seth 4th or 5th SP material? Or is he more likely to be in a role like where Montgomery finds himself for this season?

    Also - how many options does Frankoff have? I assume that if this is his first 'option year' now,... that could work to his roster advantage as well - or make him a potential trading chip if some other team can make use of that factor in managing their own roster.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Frankoff seems more like a swing guy. Butler and Montgomery can both lose control, but their pure stuff is better, and should have more luck going through a lineup 2-3 times. Not to say that Frankoff couldn't compete for the job.

    He will have two more option years (assuming he is sent back to the minors at some point this year, thus burning his first of three).

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Thanks Michael!

  • I'm hoping someone makes a great non-linear jump to help us this year. : -)

    BTW, has there been a non-first round draft pick by this FO who has made an impact so far? I'm struggling to think of even one.

    And why haven't we talked more about the fact that they really rushed Happ through the system? What happened to "process?" Especially having won a WS, there was no need to rush. And doing that to the detriment of Almora's development. And when Joe already had too many options to juggle. I really don't get it.

  • In reply to TTP:

    Iirc, when we brought up Happ we were at wits end trying to figure out the lead off possession plus the team wasn't hitting all that well. #a lot like now. It was in an effort to infuse talent into the lineup.

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    Hey Tom!
    I guess I'm slow to the game, as I just now realized that you landed here for the season. Always enjoyed your minor league coverage over at chicagocubsonline.
    Nice interview here with Frankoff... he's one player that I haven't read/heard/seen much on. Perhaps I'll get to see him this week when Iowa comes to Nashville.
    I recently saw Tyler Peyton pitch for South Bend when they played Bowling Green. I believe it was only his second appearance in minors. He seemed pretty impressive (as was Duncan Robinson the same night). What are your thoughts on his developmental future?
    Looking forward to more articles from you.

  • In reply to Brian Buchanan:

    Thank you Brian! Sorry I am late in responding, but I was out with my family today.

    Tommy Birch from the Des Moines Register spoke a little about Tyler Peyton, who is from their area. He felt that while Peyton wasn't overpowering, he had the stuff to succeed. I haven't had a chance to get back out to South Bend, but he is on my list of players I want to learn more about.

    Thank you once again for being a loyal follower. I am very grateful to John and everyone here at Cubs Den.

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