Duane Underwood Jr. made a solid impression in his MLB debut last summer. Since then, there has been little mention of the young Chicago Cubs pitcher.
The Chicago Cubs’ 2019 starting rotation is all but set. Barring any injuries or unforeseen transactions, the group will feature some combination of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana.
Mike Montgomery is the Cubs’ sixth man and the embattled Tyler Chatwood the seventh man. The team has no shortage of starting pitching depth, which is also evident in whom the Cubs have knocking on the MLB door.
Please stand up
Ah yes, remember him? Underwood is the 24-year-old right-hander who made a spot start for the Cubs against the Dodgers on June 25. While he walked three batters in four innings, he allowed just one run on two hits, striking out three.
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Such a performance would warrant giving Underwood another look at the big-league level, right? Wrong. Underwood didn’t get a second appearance with the Cubs in 2018, let alone a second start.
The aforementioned starting pitching depth is partially to blame for this. Underwood was not going to usurp a rotation spot from a healthy Lester, Hendricks, Quintana or Montgomery, after all.
However, there were chances for Underwood to get a second shot with the Cubs. Luke Farrell received a spot start — allowing six runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 23 — over Underwood.
The Cubs could have inserted Underwood into the rotation for Chatwood. Admittedly, despite Chatwood’s control issues, this would have been a questionable move considering Underwood’s thin résumé.
Plus, acquiring Hamels worked out well for the team, anyhow.
One would have thought there was room for Underwood’s 96 mph fastball in the Cubs’ bullpen after rosters expanded to 40 players on Sept. 1. Underwood’s last appearance with Triple-A Iowa came on Sept. 2, too.
Sure, the Cubs likely wanted to be cautious in not overworking Underwood. Between his lone MLB start and 27 games/20 starts with Iowa, the right-hander threw 123 1/3 innings. His career high is 138 innings in 2017 at Double-A.
Underwood has experienced control issues in his career, walking 3.4 batters per nine innings in seven minor league seasons. Plus, pushing him for the sake of getting him MLB reps would have been unwise.
Waiting in the wings
However, the Cubs’ bullpen was running on fumes and the arms of Jorge De La Rosa and Jaime García in September.
De La Rosa performed admirably with the Cubs; García (three runs, three walks) managed to get just one out in a spot start against the Washington Nationals on Sept. 8. Underwood would have had five days off, had he been called upon to start that game.
At this point, it’s hard to see Underwood cracking the Cubs’ 25-man roster anytime soon. Even if the Cubs put him on the roster as a reliever, where he’d fit in is questionable. Like the starting rotation, the bullpen has plenty of depth.
Plus, there is no use in giving up on Underwood as a starter before his 25th birthday. Could he crack the rotation down the road, whenever the likes of Lester, Hamels and Quintana depart the team?
Perhaps, but when those moments come is anyone’s guess. Until then, Underwood likely will continue to be overlooked, waiting for his next chance to showcase his talents at the MLB level.