Chicago Cubs: Duane Underwood Jr. could be a big bullpen piece

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

Duane Underwood Jr. may be poised to become a big bullpen piece for the Cubs.

Last year, Duane Underwood Jr. made a big splash with the Chicago Cubs when he made his 2019 debut by whiffing six straight batters in an August 6 game against the Oakland Athletics. He did get some opportunities down the stretch, and the results were mixed, as he gave up a total of seven earned runs in 11 2/3 innings out of the bullpen.

We know that the Cubs’ bullpen is going to be critical in this shortened 2020 season. Craig Kimbrel needs to be better, but the middle relief, which was wide open back when the season first started in February, needs to show up as well. Hence, a great opportunity for the once highly-regarded Underwood.

More from Cubbies Crib

The soon-to-be 26-year-old right-hander, who was the Cubs’ second-round draft pick in 2012, was in’s top 100 prospect list back in 2016. Yet his climb to the big leagues has been a slow one, and with Underwood out of options, he had to make the team this year or the Cubs would need to cut ties with him.

It appears that Underwood is taking advantage of a big opportunity to grab a bullpen spot as the Cubs prepare for their shortened 2020 season at Wrigley Field. He’s receiving a lot of praise for developing a spike curveball, and he made headlines by striking out six in his appearance in a Sunday scrimmage.

Underwood still has a lot to prove, however. Last year, he did get his average fastball velocity up to 95.0 MPH from 93.0 during his brief 2018 MLB stint. He needs to keep it at least that high to be a valuable bullpen weapon. He also relies heavily on the changeup; it remains to be seen whether he can be effective as a reliever long-term in that regard.

Perhaps the curveball he’s been working on will help put him over the top. If it does become an effective pitch, Underwood could finally have the big season we’ve been waiting for.

Next. Cubs' rotation has plenty of question marks in it. dark

Underwood has been lost in the shuffle in recent years as a potential contributor out of the bullpen. Yet with such a big opportunity in front of him, now is the time for him to come through. Perhaps at this stage of his career, he is about to put it all together.