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Cubs promote Duane Underwood Jr.

Young right-hander will make MLB debut

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Scottsdale Scorpions at Mesa Solar Sox Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs are expected to promote right-hander Duane Underwood Jr. today and give him his first major league start against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Here’s a quick take.

The Cubs drafted Underwood in the second round in 2012 from high school in Marietta, Georgia. He was rather prominent as a prep and had designs on the first round but inconsistency in the months before the draft knocked him down a bit.

It also set the stage for his pro career: “inconsistent” is probably the most commonly used word in every scouting report ever written for Underwood. He’s moved up one level at a time, with progress slowed by bouts of elbow soreness in 2015 and 2016. There were also complaints early in his career that he wasn’t fully dedicated to his craft and let himself get out of condition, but those complaints have faded as he’s matured emotionally.

Spending 2017 with Double-A Tennessee, Underwood posted a 4.43 ERA in 138 innings with a 98/50 K/BB. Underwood ranked 11th on the pre-season Chicago Cubs Top 20 Prospects list with this comment:

11) Duane Underwood, RHP, Grade C+: Age 23, second round pick in 2012 from high school in Georgia; has been on prospect lists for years now but still young; 4.43 ERA with 98/50 K/BB in 138 innings in Double-A, 130 hits; on the right day looks like a number two starter with fastball up to 97, double-plus curveball, workable change-up; on the wrong day he looks like, well, not very good, with fastball velocity sagging, flat change-up and a loopy, mediocre curve; this has been his pattern since he signed and I have no idea if it will change; watch for any improvement in K/BB ratio; ETA late 2018.

The hoped-for improvement in K/BB happened: this year he’s at 60/20 in 71.2 innings for Triple-A Iowa. His ERA is still a bit high at 4.27 but he’s had some dominant outings including a 10-strikeout game on June 8th. He’s also had some weak games but the Cubs have seen enough progress to give him a shot.

Standing at 6-2, 210, Underwood was born July 20th, 1994. He has no shortage of arm strength, consistently in the low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and sometimes a tad higher. As noted in the pre-season report he can flash very good secondary stuff. He’s added a slider and cutter to his curveball. His change-up has also improved this year along with his general command and control.

Underwood has made real progress but the inconsistent label still applies and you never know which Underwood will show up on any particular day. That said, sources agree that he’s showing greater maturity on and off the field with positive results that have shown up in the boxscores.