Going through Sunday’s minor league boxscores, I see that Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Duane Underwood Jr. had an excellent start for the Iowa Cubs, throwing seven shutout innings against Round Rock, giving up one hit and two walks while fanning seven.
Underwood has been good most of 2018 so far. He had a rough start on May 2nd but has otherwise been effective, with a 3.25 ERA in 27.2 innings overall with a 27/4 K/BB and 24 hits allowed.
Drafted in the second round in 2012 from high school in Marietta, Georgia, Underwood has had one of the best arms in the Cubs system for six years now. That may seem like a long time but he was 17 years old when drafted and is still just 23. His career to this point has been marked by inconsistency, nagging injuries, and moments of brilliance.
Underwood posted a 4.43 ERA in 138 innings in Double-A in 2017 with a 98/50 K/BB. There were some small hints of progress late in the season with a 24/9 K/BB in his final 37 innings alongside reports that his breaking ball and change-up had improved.
Listed at 6-2, 210, Underwood can hit 95-97 MPH with his fastball. His curveball is a plus pitch when he’s right and his change-up has progressed enough to be considered average. He does have a history of elbow trouble although to this point he’s avoided surgery and had no problems with health in 2017 or so far in ‘18.
Underwood’s stuff has been respected since high school but his work ethic and attitude were another matter. He hasn’t always been in good physical condition and showed lack of focus on and off the mound. However, those issues seem to have improved considerably over the last 10 months, Underwood himself crediting Cubs president Theo Epstein as well as meditative techniques with helping him turn the corner with his attitude last summer.
The changes he made look genuine; he’s in peak shape at the moment and pitching very well. Keep track of his K/BB ratio in particular. Underwood has the stuff to be a solid starter if the command is there, if his elbow holds up, and if he keeps the intangibles together.