By Todd Johnson
I have been thinking about this a lot. And every time I watch Duane Underwood pitch, that is the question that is on my mind. And there are several other questions to go with it. Like, how close is he to being ready? Will Underwood be successful if he makes it? And to be honest, they are all pretty close to the same question. And the answer is always the same. Almost.
It is pretty nondescript and as vague as one can get while at the same time being somewhat positive, but not too positive.
Drafted in the compensation round in 2012, Underwood has had his moments as a Cub prospect. Some of them, early on, were eye-opening about the condition he needed to keep his body in and the talent that he has when he is healthy.
At Kane County and Myrtle Beach he was throwing an easy 95 and was named the Cubs MiLB pitcher of the Year in 2015 at Myrtle Beach. He had a 2.48 ERA that year in 73.1 innings.
Things started going off the rails for him in 2016 as he battled injuries for the better part of of the season. Nothing required surgery, but it was a little alarming.
It was good to see him pitch 131 innings last year and he has looked much more mature on the mound since about the middle of July 2017.
This year, he looks to be in great shape. His curveball looks great. And, most importantly, he’s throwing pretty much where he wants when he wants. When he occasionally gets the ball up , that’s when he runs into trouble.
He can start a hitter off with a curve ball on strike one or he can finish them off with the change up for strike three. It’s good that he’s pitching in a variety of ways but he’s keeping the ball down. And when he does that, he is almost unhittable. This year, he has a 3.98 ERA in 110 starts with 56 K in 61 innings. He’s only walked 15, which is amazing.
He’s just a phone call away now. Even though it seems like he’s been around forever, it has only been six years. He is still just 23 years old. The only thing he has left work on is to have consistency from start to start to start to start. For awhile this year, he gave up either 4 runs or 0 runs for six straight starts. As a result, his ERA is not a true indication of his season other than his inconsistencies.
Last Friday, for example. He got hit hard in the first inning and gave up four runs. However, over the next four innings, he struck out a total eight guys (10 total) while not allowing anything else. The issue that first inning was he lead off the game with two walks, then he gave up two singles. He wasn’t hit hard, he just couldn’t get the ball where he wanted before striking out the last two batters. The damage, though, was already done.
The Cubs are only going to put him in Chicago if they feel that he can succeed. I don’t know when that will be, but I do know that he is almost there. It’s all about consistency now.