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. MLB.com 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.
“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.
“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.”