What To Do With Duane Underwood?

Scouts expected Georgia to be nearly as fertile in 2012 as it was in 2010, when the state produced six first-round picks, including five out of high school.

The state does have the draft's top prospect in Baxley outfielder Byron Buxton, and righthander Lucas Sims of Snellville's Brookwood High figures to go in the first two rounds, perhaps even the first. Much of the rest of the prep class has been ordinary or disappointing, or at least has a flaw or two for scouts.

And then there's Duane Underwood. The athletic 6-foot-2, 185-pound righthander at Marietta's Pope High has had an up-and-down spring, mostly on the down side. A late uptick produced buzz that Underwood could put himself back into first-round consideration, as he reportedly hit 96-97 mph as Pope High approached the playoffs.

"He had two good starts," an American League scout said. "Then he was bad again (Wednesday) night. The breaking ball was not good, and the velocity dropped quickly."

Underwood showed first-round stuff on the showcase circuit, and at his best his fastball sits in the 91-94 mph range. He's athletic and spins a breaking ball, though his curve often is soft in the 73-75 mph range. He also has a firm but effective changeup.

This spring, according to several scouts, Underwood has rarely been at his best, more frequently sitting in the 87-92 mph range with an even softer curve. Most scouts still like the body and the arm, but his changeup more often than not has been his best pitch.

After two strong outings where he was back in top form, touching 97 mph and staying locked in for several innings, Underwood regressed last week against Dunwoody (Ga.) High, hitting 96 in the first inning but dropping off quickly.

"He does well when there's no adversity," a second AL scout said. "But if guys get on base, if there's an error or a bloop, before you know it the wheels fall off.

"I want to like the kid. A lot of us do. He's a good kid, and it's a real good arm, fast hands—all the things you look for. I'm not sure if he's overthrowing the breaking ball or being too fine with the fastball command. I think he just loses concentration, and it comes apart. I think right now, it's too much to see him going in the first round or even the comp round."