Our Pirates Winter Report will highlight one Pittsburgh Pirates prospect each week, then give brief notes from each country playing winter ball. This week, we stray a bit from a “prospect” to feature right-handed pitcher Duane Underwood Jr., who spent this off-season in Puerto Rico.
Duane Underwood Jr. had a brief winter in Puerto Rico. He joined his team with just over a week left in the season. It was a team that already clinched a playoff spot, so he knew he would see at least four more games of action under the worst case scenario. They ended up losing a seven-game series, where he pitched three times.
Underwood made a total of six appearances this winter, including playoff time. He pitched a scoreless inning in every outing, while working on a strict and limited pitch count. In those six innings, he allowed three hits, no walks and he struck out eight batters.
You really can’t take much from winter league stats for a Major League player with his type of big league experience. You could make a good case that he was one of the two best pitchers in the league this winter. I’m basing that on his big league experience, and not his performance in the league. The problem with the league is that the competition level he was facing wasn’t the best for winter ball.
There were a total of 33 batters with MLB experience in Puerto Rico this year, and they received about 35% of the plate appearances in the league. For comparison, the Dominican League had over 55% of their plate appearances from players with MLB experience. The quality of the experienced MLB players was also better on average in the Dominican.
The problem with just using that 35% number from Puerto Rico is that it represented the six teams, and Underwood’s club received just under 25% of the total PAs from the group MLB players. They were one of the better teams in that area. On the flip side though, he only faced ten batters to get through his three innings in the playoffs against a very good team.
Pitching in the Dominican would have been a better level of competition, but Underwood already had experience in Puerto Rico, so it probably worked better for him, since the connection was there. Leagues also have limits on foreign players, so there may not have been a place for him in the Dominican anyway.
That all being said, you obviously want to see him do well in the winter, small sample size/weaker competition regardless. He did as well as you could ask from someone under the circumstances.
You also like to see someone who will be competing for a bullpen spot put in the off-season work. He clearly wasn’t playing a few weeks of winter ball for the money. This is a big season for him because he’s getting to a point where his arbitration salary makes him a fringe player to be kept around, unless he can put together better results.
It’s possible that the winter success and head start he got on the preseason, will help him going into the season.
Around the World
Tsung-Che Cheng went 3-for-16 with two walks in the opening series of the playoffs. He’s 0-for-3 with a walk in the finals, only playing defense for two innings without a plate appearance in that second game.
Josh Palacios went 6-for-20, with a double, homer and three walks in six playoff games during the first round. He had two hits in the first game of the finals, and none in the second or third game, though he drove in a run each day.
Chavez Young had a huge day recently, as his team is now playing in the finals. He had five hits in the first two games, scoring two runs in game one, and driving in three runs in game two. He had a hit and a walk in the third game. He went 6-for-21 with a double, homer and four walks in six playoff games during the first round.
Sammy Siani has been the best hitter by a wide margin among the six Pirates in Australia. He continued that success into the final weekend, going into Saturday’s games (they play a doubleheader) with the ninth best OPS in the league.
Ernny Ordonez has started to show a little bit of power. He had an empty average for most of the winter season, but has come on a little of late and has a good chance to finish as a league average (or better) hitter.
Jase Bowen was our featured player last week, then he had a huge day at the plate the same day the article was posted. I said in that article that he could finish league average with a strong end to the season, then he added 71 points to that OPS in one day. Now only a slow finish (no jinx) would put him under league average, with just three games left to the season.
Dylan Shockley has shown some power, but it comes with a low average and a below average OPS. More importantly here, he was injured for a good portion of the 2022 season, so he’s making up for missed time.
Solomon Maguire isn’t playing during the final two weeks of the season, so nothing new to report.
Jesus Castillo has had a rough season at the plate with a very low average and almost zero power, but he has drawn some walks, isn’t striking out a lot, and his fielding has been tremendous the entire winter.
Andres Alvarez played one game since our last Winter Report. His team was eliminated on Saturday night. He went 5-for-17 with a double and two walks in five playoff games.
Francisco Acuna is still in the playoffs, where his team split the first two games of their championship series. He went 2-for-17 with a homer and two walks in five playoff games during the first round, then 3-for-11 with a double, two RBIs and a walk in the finals so far.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.