- Full name Duane Lee Underwood Jr.
- Born 07/20/1994 in Raleigh, NC
- Profile Ht.: 6'2" / Wt.: 225 / Bats: R / Throws: R
- School Alan C. Pope
- Debut 06/25/2018
Drafted in the 2nd round (67th overall) by the Chicago Cubs in 2012 (signed for $1,050,000).
View Draft ReportA Georgia signee, Underwood has plenty going for him. He has a quick arm and athletic frame at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, and if he winds up in Athens, he has a chance to contribute as both a hitter (he's a solid-average runner) and on the mound. He's young for the draft class as well, as he turns 18 in July. Pro scouts see him as a pitcher and a potential first-rounder on the right day, but that had not happened often enough in his senior season. Underwood at his best has a fastball that sits in the 91-94 mph range and touches 97-98. He has shown the ability to spin a breaking ball, though his curve often is soft in the 73-75 mph range and he tends to overthrow it. He has a firm but effective changeup, and this spring it has been his best pitch, in part because it's the pitch he controls the best. Underwood's fastball command has been erratic this spring, and his velocity often drops off quickly into the 87-92 mph range, and he hasn't shown much feel for pitching this spring. His mechanics are sound, though at times he loses his tempo and rushes his delivery. Scouts also want to see him handle adversity better. Scouts like Underwood and he had some supplemental-round buzz, but his inconsistent spring could knock him back a bit.
Organization Prospect Rankings
Underwood set several career highs in 2017, which was especially encouraging following two injury-interrupted seasons preceding it. Elbow soreness, forearm tightness and inflammation had plagued him previously, but he stayed healthy in 2017 and set career highs with 138 innings, 98 strikeouts, 13 victories and 24 starts, and did it all at Double-A Tennessee. Underwood's fastball was better at full health; he showed some 97 mph readings and held his typical 92-95 velocity a bit better than before. He still lacks consistency with his fastball command, and the pitch has modest life, so it's not a big swing-and-miss fastball. His curveball and changeup have above-average moments; he still lacks the feel of how and when to use them to dominate minor league hitters. He made progress, though, and still has the three-pitch mix to start, if not the true pitchability. Underwood's stuff likely would play up in relief, whether in short bursts such as Carl Edwards or one time through an order in a swing role. He's headed for Triple-A in 2018.
Underwood remains the pitcher with the highest ceiling in the Cubs system for some club officials, but his likelihood of reaching it keeps diminishing. Signed for $1.05 million in 2012, Underwood hasn't pitched a full season since 2014. Elbow soreness and inflammation interrupted his 2015 season, while similar issues in spring training delayed his 2016 campaign. He made 13 starts at Double-A Tennessee before being sidelined again for over a month with forearm tightness, and he finished the season at low Class A South Bend. He then left the Arizona Fall League after two modest appearances, where his fastball sat around 92 mph. At his best, Underwood sits 93-95 mph with late life on his fastball, though he doesn't hold that velocity deep into games. He flashes plus with his curveball and above-average with his changeup, but he lacks consistency with both pitches. The Cubs added him to the 40-man roster in November, and Underwood stayed in Arizona in the offseason to work on the club's conditioning program. He hopes to shed the "tease" label in a return to Double-A in 2017, but can only do so if his elbow stops barking.
Signed for $1.05 million, Underwood had a slow start to his pro career before gaining steam in 2014. He was off to an even stronger start in 2015 before missing a turn and then getting lit up in a June 26 start. His elbow soreness prompted a flight to Chicago to an MRI that came up clean, and Underwood rehabbed his way back from the inflammation into the high Class A Myrtle Beach rotation, making two playoff starts and showing his customary velocity. Among the Cubs' full-season starters, Underwood has the firmest fastball, sitting in the 93-96 mph range, particularly early in games, before settling into the low 90s later. Its late life induces more early-count weak contact than empty cuts. Underwood still is learning to harness his ability to cut and sink the ball, and to set up hitters to better use his curveball and changeup. His curve has more swing-and-miss potential than his changeup for some scouts, but most agree his changeup is more consistent and ahead of his breaking ball currently. Both have flashed plus but grade no better than average consistently, leading to a modest strikeout rate. He's spent time on the disabled list in each of his full seasons. Consistency is the key to Underwood, who has improved his fitness and pro routine and now needs to bring it all together. A full, healthy season at Double-A Tennessee would put him on the cusp of Chicago as a potential No. 3 starter.
Underwood was a potential first-round pick as a prep senior before an erratic spring in which he didn't hold his top-end velocity. The Cubs signed him for a $1.05 million bonus and he struggled in his first two seasons. But having dropped 25-30 pounds, Underwood broke out at low Class A Kane County in 2014. He took off when his preparation started to match his ability. He not only had a better body but a better, more professional mindset. His weight loss unlocked his athleticism, allowing him to better repeat his delivery and locate his plus fastball. He had the highest average velocity of any Cubs minor league starter, and his heater can sit in the 94-96 mph range. He's learning to finish off hitters with a hard curve that flashes plus as well, thanks to its depth and late action. He needs to locate both pitches better against more advanced hitters. His changeup continues to improve and also flashes plus because he throws it with good arm speed. Consistency with location and preparation continue to be his biggest weaknesses. No one took as big of a step forward for the organization in 2014 as Underwood, who has the system's most electric stuff. If he combines better control with more consistent displays of the best of his repertoire, he could move quickly. He'll start 2015 at Chicago's new high Class A Myrtle Beach affiliate.
Underwood was one of the more enigmatic players in the 2012 draft. On some days, he'd hit 98 mph with his fastball and flash first-round talent. On others, he couldn't command his heater and would dip into the upper 80s quickly, looking more like a fourth-rounder. The Cubs split the difference, drafting him in the second round and signing him away from a Georgia commitment for $1.05 million. He's very athletic for a pitcher and would have been a two-way player for the Bulldogs. Underwood generally pitches at 91-94 mph with his fastball but it varies from 88-98 and he doesn't always know where it's going. His curveball is similarly inconsistent. He'll show some feel for spinning the ball, but he'll also overthrow the curve and wind up with a soft, loopy offering that's begging to be crushed. He controls his changeup better than his other pitches, but he throws it too hard and doesn't get enough separation from his fastball. The Cubs worked to get Underwood to stop rushing his delivery in instructional league, and they were pleased with the results. They'll probably keep him in extended spring to start 2013 before sending him to short-season Boise in June.
A Georgia signee, Underwood has plenty going for him. He has a quick arm and athletic frame at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, and if he winds up in Athens, he has a chance to contribute as both a hitter (he's a solid-average runner) and on the mound. He's young for the draft class as well, as he turns 18 in July. Pro scouts see him as a pitcher and a potential first-rounder on the right day, but that had not happened often enough in his senior season. Underwood at his best has a fastball that sits in the 91-94 mph range and touches 97-98. He has shown the ability to spin a breaking ball, though his curve often is soft in the 73-75 mph range and he tends to overthrow it. He has a firm but effective changeup, and this spring it has been his best pitch, in part because it's the pitch he controls the best. Underwood's fastball command has been erratic this spring, and his velocity often drops off quickly into the 87-92 mph range, and he hasn't shown much feel for pitching this spring. His mechanics are sound, though at times he loses his tempo and rushes his delivery. Scouts also want to see him handle adversity better. Scouts like Underwood and he had some supplemental-round buzz, but his inconsistent spring could knock him back a bit.
Minor League Top Prospects
Underwood missed time this year with a balky right shoulder, but when he was healthy he impressed with his physicality and power arsenal. Underwood begins his arsenal with power fastball that can sit in the mid-90s and has touched as high as 99 mph. Later in the year he also showed the ability to dial down the velocity but add powerful cutting action in on the hands of lefthanders. He couples his heater with a hard, downer curveball in the high 80s that can garner swings and misses when it's working properly. Underwood's repertoire is finished with a changeup in the mid-80s. He throws the pitch with conviction and gets good fade away from lefties. If both secondary pitches reach their potential, he could be a mid-rotation starter, but his floor is as a power reliever at the back of a bullpen.
On a Kane County staff that dominated the league, Underwood was the starter with the best stuff. Most of the Cougars' pitchers hit their spots and kept hitters off-balance with offspeed stuff. Underwood, on the other hand, could blow batters away at his best with a 93-96 mph fastball and a downer curveball that shows the potential to develop into an above-average pitch. Underwood shows plus athleticism on the mound. He has a fast arm and a relatively clean delivery, though he is long in the back as he brings the ball out of his glove.
Best Tools List
- Rated Best Changeup in the Chicago Cubs in 2019
- Puerto Rico activated RHP Duane Underwood Jr..