DUANE UNDERWOOD, JR., RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: July 20, 1994
Drafted: 2nd Round, 67th overall pick, 2012 (Cubs)
How Acquired: Trade (with Cubs)
High School: Pope HS (Marietta, GA)
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|The Cubs drafted Underwood out of high school and used him as a starter through most of his time in the minors. He was considered erratic when drafted, with a fastball that could be anywhere from the upper-80s to the upper-90s, and variable command. He moved to the bullpen in AAA and his fastball now sits in the mid-90s, reaching 96-98. He throws a curve and change, with the latter being his best pitch. Underwood’s K rate was generally low as a starter, but it’s been high in relief, with a lot of the missed bats coming from the change. The Pirates acquired him in a trade after the Cubs removed him from their 40-man roster.
Underwood debuted in rookie ball, making five brief starts. After the season, Baseball America ranked him 17th in the Cubs’ system.
In short season ball, Underwood had a rough time. His walk and K rates were both poor and opponents hit .277 against him.
The Cubs moved Underwood up to full season ball and he made a lot of strides. His walk and K rates improved, and opponents batted only .230. BA rated him tenth in the system after the season.
In high A, Underwood had another strong season, although he was helped by a very low BABIP of .223. He also had a very low K rate. A sore elbow cost Underwood some time during the season. BA rated him fourth in the system.
Underwood was able to make only 13 starts in AA due to forearm tightness. He missed time at the beginning of the season and made only rehab appearances after early July. When he pitched, his velocity was down and he had control problems. BA ranked him 15th in the system and the Cubs added him to the 40-man roster after the season.
Underwood got in a full season, but was only moderately effective, still with a low K rate. BA ranked him 19th among Cubs’ prospects.
Underwood spent the year in AAA, apart from a one-game callup in June. The callup occurred after a strong first two months; he was much less effective after he returned to AAA.
The Cubs sent Underwood to AAA for most of the season and employed him mainly in relief. The move seemingly boosted his K rate substantially, although he had some control problems. He got a brief callup in early August and returned to the majors in September. He was more effective with the Cubs, pitching strictly in relief.
Now out of options, Underwood spent the pandemic season with the Cubs, making 17 appearances, all in relief. His walk and K rates were excellent, but opponents batted .313 against him and he allowed a home run every four innings. His xFIP of 3.65 suggests Underwood pitched much better than his ERA indicates, but the batted ball data shows he gave up a lot of hard contact.
The Cubs designated Underwood for assignment early in spring training and the Pirates acquired him at little cost. He opened the season with the Pirates and stayed with them until early September, when he went out for the season with right shoulder inflammation. The Pirates mainly tried to use Underwood as a multi-inning reliever. Of his 43 appearances, he went more than one inning 28 times and three or more five times. He was reasonably effective, but his numbers took a hit in a very bad month of July, when his ERA was 9.28. He had a lot of trouble with left-handed hitters, allowing them an .898 OPS. He held right-handed hitters to .681.
Underwood spent the season as one of the Pirates’ bullpen mainstays. Even with a couple of injured list stints, he finished second on the team in appearances and third in relief innings. He missed most of April and part of May with a hamstring problem, then spent several weeks in June on the COVID list. Overall, his season was mediocre. He was successful at keeping opponents from driving the ball much; he gave up only a .320 slugging average. But opponents posted a .340 OBP against him, well above the league average of .314. He also continued to struggle with left-handed hitters, although not nearly as much as the previous year. In September, the Pirates were forced to use Underwood frequently in high-leverage, late-inning roles, due to Ben Cherington’s failure to add late-inning relievers, and it didn’t go well. He had a 5.79 ERA for the month (including October), and suffered three losses and two blown saves.
Underwood is the prototype Cherington reliever: mediocre without being terrible, and unsuited to late-inning relief. He’s eligible for arbitration for the first time.
|Signing Bonus: $1,050,000
MiLB Debut: 2012
MLB Debut: 6/25/2018
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2026
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/18/2016
Options Remaining: 0 (USED: 2017, 2018, 2019)
MLB Service Time: 3.044
|June 5, 2012: Drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 2nd round, 67th overall pick; signed on July 12.
November 18, 2016: Contract purchased by the Chicago Cubs.
March 2, 2021: Designated for assignment by the Chicago Cubs.
March 7, 2021: Traded by the Chicago Cubs to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Shendrik Apostel.