Taking cautious approach, Cubs send Duane Underwood to minor-league camp


Taking cautious approach, Cubs send Duane Underwood to minor-league camp

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs just sent their best pitching prospect to minor-league camp without even giving him a look in a Cactus League game.

Duane Underwood Jr. represents perhaps the organization’s best chance at developing a frontline homegrown starting pitcher within the next two years. ranked him as the game’s No. 78 overall prospect, while Baseball America listed him as the system’s fourth-best prospect heading into this season.

Underwood missed two months last year while dealing with a strained right elbow, finishing with a 6-3 record and a 2.58 ERA in 14 starts for advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach.

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“He had a little bit of stiffness – that was it – in his arm,” manager Joe Maddon said Monday at Sloan Park. “I’m talking about not pushing anybody right now, so we did not want to push him.

“But he’s fine. He’s on his throwing program right now. He’s getting close to participating in the games. When you get a guy that good that young, you just don’t push it right now.” 

The Cubs also optioned first baseman Dan Vogelbach, right-hander Andury Acevedo and lefty Eric Jokisch to Triple-A Iowa. The Cubs assigned pitchers Armando Rivero, Jack Leathersich and Jonathan Pettibone to minor-league camp, cutting their spring roster to 56 players.

The Cubs used a second-round pick on Underwood in 2012, drafting him out of Pope High School in Marietta, Georgia, using their volume approach to pitching while stocking up on elite young hitters.

Underwood will turn 22 this summer and should be on the radar as long as he stays healthy.

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“I know that he’s got high-velocity numbers, and he’s got a pretty good breaking ball, too,” Maddon said. “But more than anything, his advancement, I think, is going to be directly related (to) really learning how to locate his fastball and play off of that.

“He’s very calm, it seems, and mature, and I kind of like all that stuff. So when you get a young pitcher like that with that body and that arm and that makeup, I’m telling you, man, all the young guys I’ve had like that – fastball command really accelerates them getting to the big leagues.”

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

The changing of the guard continues for the Cubs this offseason. 

After the team hired a new hitting coach yesterday, it was reported today that they're losing a front office member: 

Rehman, who has been with the Cubs in the same position for the last seven years, will reportedly head up the Rangers' analytics department. According to the Chicago Tribune, Rehman's role was " evaluating existing systems, and recognizing and applying solutions in an effort to create competitive advantages for the organization." 

All reports indicate that he'll be doing similar analytic-based work with the Rangers. 

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis didn't go all scorched earth on the Cubs in a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, but he had quite a lot to say after being ousted by the organization after just one year as the hitting coach.

The Cubs made Davis the scapegoat for an offense that faded down the stretch, struggling for the entire second half and scoring just 1 run in three of the final four games of the year.

When he was hired a year ago, Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon talked up Davis' impressive resume that includes a 19-year MLB career, two separate stints as a successful hitting coach with the Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox and a philosophy that they hoped would withstand the test of time in the game today, preaching more contact and using the opposite field.

Throughout the 2018 season, Maddon often commended Davis for his ability to communicate with players, particularly in the area of mental approach to each at-bat.

Now that the dust has settled a bit on his firing, Davis felt he had some issues getting through to some Cubs players.

I learned a lot this year," Davis told the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer. "I learned that the next situation I get in, before I say yes to a job, I need to make sure I know the personnel I'll be dealing with in the clubhouse. I hope the next guy connects better with the players, because I felt that there were multiple players there I didn't connect with. It wasn't that I didn't try; it just wasn't there.

The Cubs hired Anthony Iapoce as their new hitting coach Monday afternoon. Iapoce comes over from the Rangers and has a direct link to John Mallee, who was the Cubs' hitting coach for three seasons before being let go when Davis became available last winter. 

Iapoce also spent three seasons with the Cubs as a special assistant to the GM, overseeing the organization's minor-league hitting from 2013-15. Presumably, he found a way over those years to connect with the Cubs' top young hitting prospects — guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras that are now leading the big-league lineup.

Hopefully he has better success at this than I did," Davis said of Iapoce in the Sun-Times article. "But regardless of who's there, certain players there are going to have to make some adjustments because the game's changed and pitchers are pitching them differently. They're not pitching to launch angles and fly balls and all that anymore. They're pitching away from that. They're going to have to make that adjustment whether I'm there or not.

Davis had a whole lot more to say on the matter and I encourage you to read the full interview with Wittenmyer over at

A healthy Bryant very likely could've changed everything for Davis and the Cubs' 2018 lineup. Contreras hitting like he's capable of in the second half would've made a huge difference, as well.

But the end result is a finish to the 2018 campaign that was viewed universally as a disappointment — particularly in the offensive department — and the Cubs are left with their third different hitting coach in three seasons.