Duane Underwood Jr. spent the first month of Spring Training in big league camp as a non-roster invitee. The Cubs re-assigned Underwood Jr. to minor league camp Monday as one of the seven players cut from the team’s spring roster.
Reports leading up to Monday stated the reason Underwood Jr. had not pitched in a Cactus League game was because he was dealing with allergies due to the high pollen count in Arizona. By all accounts, Underwood Jr. was healthy and not dealing with any injuries.
Joe Maddon said Monday that Underwood Jr. was also slowed this spring because of elbow stiffness early in camp.
Maddon said Underwood Jr. is fine and downplayed the injury to one of the top pitching prospects in the organization. Maddon told the beat writers he is on a throwing program and “getting close to participating in games.”
The Cubs did not want to push Underwood Jr. early. The 21-year old right-hander has impressed Maddon and recently said he’s learned a lot this spring spending time and talking to Jake Arrieta.
Underwood Jr. made 16 starts last season, 14 for High-A Myrtle Beach and two rehab starts for the AZL Cubs. Underwood Jr. posted a 6-3 record with a 2.41 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 78 1/3 innings (26 runs, 21 earned, 55 hits, 24 walks, 54 strikeouts). In 14 starts for Mark Johnson, Underwood Jr. was 6-3 with a 2.58 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.
Until the news surfaced Monday, Underwood Jr. was expected to be the Opening Day starter for new Smokies’ skipper Mark Johnson at Double-A Tennessee.
The Cubs had to shut down Underwood Jr. last July with inflammation in his right elbow. An MRI at the time did not reveal any structural damage. There was swelling in the right elbow. Underwood Jr. was able to avoid Tommy John surgery and returned in August.
Underwood Jr. appeared in two games for the Pelicans before the post-season run to the Carolina League Championship. Underwood Jr. allowed three runs, two earned, on six hits with four walks and six strikeouts in nine innings.
The Cubs were happy with the progress he made coming back from the injury and said there were no issues as pitchers and catchers were set to report.
Joe Maddon did not say how behind Duane Underwood Jr. is in his preparation for the season. Based on the comment about him being “on his throwing program right now” and he’s “getting close to participating in games,” it seems likely the Cubs will hold him back in extended Spring Training to make sure he’s ready to continue his development at Double-A Tennessee.