Will Underwood take that next step forward? Photo Courtesy of Larry Kave

Duane Underwood Looking for a Happier New Year

There is no doubt Duane Underwood has one of the most talented arms in the Cubs’ system. His fastball sits in the upper 90’s and sometimes touches 100 mph. The problem for him the past two years is that he cannot stay healthy. While he has avoided surgery, the injury concerns have been cause for enough consternation that Underwood could be moved to the bullpen on a permanent basis in 2017.

Next year will be Underwood’s fifth full season in the Cubs system. Yet, he is still no closer to Chicago than he was a year ago. Given both the organization’s more immediate need of bullpen arms, as well as the desire to keep Underwood healthy, his quickest path to the Bigs might be as a reliever. As such, I would not be surprised to see Underwood in that role in spring training. He has MLB-quality stuff, but just has not been able to tame himself and maintain his health or arsenal in order to make the most of it.

Current Info

6-2, 210 pounds
RHP
22 years old (7/20/94)

Strengths

Upper 90’s fastball
Plus curve
Changeup he needs to use more
Can pitch his way out of jams

Areas of Concern

Injuries the past two years
Command issues: Keeping ball down in zone
Has never thrown 100 innings as a Cub

Next Up in 2017

I think it would be best for Underwood to start 2017 in Tennessee. If he is a starter, 140 IP would be a great target. If not, 60-70 IP in relief would be outstanding. He could work in 1-2 inning stints like most relievers in the system.

What I would like to see

Underwood 70 2016 tennTo be honest, I would just like Underwood to stay healthy all year long. I honestly don’t care if he’s a reliever or a starter, he has tremendous value in either role with that elite velocity.

In order for him to maximize his talent as a starting pitcher, Underwood has to be able to work down in the zone. That’s something he’s struggled to do, especially in 2016. His fastball easily overpowered hitters in a few rehab starts I saw him make for South Bend, but it looked liked he was working on getting low. He also looked good in rehab starts for Myrtle Beach. The fireballer was then assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League, but the month off did not agree with him and he was lit up in both starts he made.

Whether it’s the injuries or some less tangible obstacle(s), Underwood just doesn’t seem to be developing at the desired pace. He’s still the same pitcher he was in 2015. The Cubs don’t want that guy. They want someone who can dominate at the higher levels of the minors and make it to Chicago. That’s the step this guy needs to make. It’s not as if this is a do-or-die season for him, but I think that precipice is close. Though it sometimes seems as though this young man has been around forever, he’s still young enough that the Cubs have time to solve some of his issues.

Underwood has the talent to become “The Man,” to be a force at the highest level. Now he just needs to do it.






About Todd Johnson

During the day, Todd teaches US and World History in a small town in northern Illinois. As a Cubs fan, his first baseball memories are of Ernie, Billy, and Fergie. Baseball cards, Strat-O-Matic, and fantasy baseball eventually followed. The summer of 2017 will find him spending most of his days watching the South Bend Cubs throughout the Midwest and Great Lakes. You can always find him on Twitter: @cubscentral08

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