Duane Underwood Jr. is in Major League camp for the first time this spring on a non-roster invite. Underwood Jr. is considered one of the top two starting pitching prospects in the system depending on the publication. The 21-year old right hander has a big arm with stuff that Jason McLeod has called the best in the organization and a fastball that can routinely hit the high-90s.
Underwood Jr. was slowed last year with soreness in his right elbow but still put up excellent numbers for the eventual Carolina League Champions. Underwood Jr. was 6-3 in 14 starts with a 2.58 ERA and 1.03 WHIP for High-A Myrtle Beach. Underwood Jr. focused on learning how to pitch which resulted in lower strikeout numbers. Underwood Jr. allowed 26 runs, 21 earned, on 52 hits with 24 walks and 48 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings.
Duane Underwood Jr. is expected to get the ball on Opening Day for Double-A Tennessee.
According to a report from Carrie Muskat, Underwood Jr. has been slowed this spring with allergies due to the high pollen count in Arizona. He is healthy and learning a lot from the big leaguers, most notably Jake Arrieta. Underwood Jr. told Muskat that he should probably “get a notebook to keep track of all the tips” he is receiving from Arrieta.
Joe Maddon likes what he’s seen from the big right-hander this spring. Underwood Jr. caught the skippers’ attention last year in an Intrasquad game when he squared off against Arrieta.
Maddon remembered what he saw from Underwood Jr. last spring. Maddon said he has really “good stuff,” velocity, elevated fastball and breaking ball. And he thinks Underwood Jr. will only get better.
Underwood Jr. dealt with maturity issues on and off the field early in his professional career. He was not as focused on his career as the Cubs would have liked at the time. That all changed prior to the 2014 season.
After struggling through the 2013 short-season with the Boise Hawks and posting a 3-4 record in 14 games, 11 starts with a 4.97 ERA and 1.63 WHIP, Underwood Jr. got serious about his career. Underwood Jr. dropped out of the pre-season prospect rankings and reported to Spring Training with a focus the Cubs had not seen from him to that point.
The 19-year old went out and dominated the Midwest League two years ago. Underwood Jr. was 6-4 in 22 games, 21 starts, with a 2.50 ERA and 1.20 WHIP for Low-A Kane County. Underwood Jr. gave up 37 runs, 28 earned, on 85 hits with 36 walks and 84 strikeouts in 100 2/3 innings.
Underwood Jr. benefited from being part of a dominating pitching staff that led the Kane County Cougars to the Midwest League Championship.
Duane Underwood Jr. reported to Spring Training in “much better shape for the second consecutive spring” according to the Tribune. Underwood Jr. has grown up a lot over the last three years but still needs to work on being more consistent on the mound.
The stuff is there (mid- to high-90s fastball with late life, curve and changeup that have flashed as plus pitches) and he projects as a mid-rotation starter in the big leagues. This is a big season in his development. If Duane Underwood Jr. can pull it all together he could be a realistic option for the rotation in 2018 when the Cubs will be looking to fill openings with starters from the system.