If there’s any question why Kane County ended the 2014 season with the best record in the minors and a Midwest League championship, all you need to do is look at the starting pitching.........and don’t forget the defense that supported that staff.
And no pitcher in the rotation made a bigger leap in ’14 than right-hander Duane Underwood, a 20-year-old flame thrower in his third pro season.
"His arrow is pointing north after he understood what he needed to do as a pro," Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod told reporters recently. "He has the most upside of all of our starting pitchers. He can sit 94 mph and he has two swing-and-miss off-speed pitches. His change-up can be very good."
That was not the case in Boise for the Georgia native two years ago where Underwood struggled with his control and led the Northwest League in runs allowed. That all changed at Kane County with pitching coach David Rosario last year.
“This kid has an unbelievable arm,” Rosario told Northsiders Report. “His fast ball can hit 97, he has a major league curve ball, and a good change-up.”
Rosario said Underwood needs to learn how to break down hitters and improve in the ‘mental department’. “Like all young pitchers, you gain a little more confidence each time out and he’s really come a long ways and definitely made some big strides,” Rosario said of the right-hander.
Name: Duane Underwood, P
Age: 20 (7/20/1994)
How acquired: Drafted in 2nd round 2012, # 67 overall, out of Pope High School, Georgia. Scouted by Keith Lockhart.
Kane County, Midwest League, Low A (22 G, 6-4, 2.50 ERA, 100.2 IP, 36 BB, 84 K, 1.20 WHIP)
Prior to Cubs
Underwood dazzled scouts with a 97 mph fastball at Pope High School and hit .337 with 6 HR, 19 RBI, and 13 SB his senior year. On the mound he had a 2.36 ERA with 75 strikeouts. Participating in the 2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic at PETCO Park in San Diego where his fastball was clocked at 96 mph, some draft experts had Underwood a first-round talent while others felt he could go in the third or fourth round.
Underwood had plans to head to University of Georgia as a two-way player for the Bulldogs but the Cubs used their second-round pick and over $1 million signing bonus to change his mind. Contract negotiations lasted up until the deadline and by the time he signed, the Arizona Rookie League was well underway. After several bullpen sessions, Underwood made his debut on Aug. 5 allowing a homer and four runs while facing five hitters. He ended 2012 with a 2.1 scoreless inning stint against the A’s even though he allowed two hits and two walks. Underwood threw 8.2 innings with a 1.50 WHIP and a BAA of .206 in his first pro season. The Marietta, Georgia native headed to Boise after extended spring training and was second on the staff with 54.1 IP but many of those were painful lessons for the 19-year-old. He finished 3-4 with a 4.97 ERA, 1.64 WHIP and 4.5 BB/9. He allowed the most runs in the NWL and fanned six batters per nine. He recorded his first pro win July 15 at Hillsboro, allowing a run in 5.1 innings, the longest outing of his career. He got the start in the Hawks division clinching playoff win over Salem-Keizer but only lasted into the second inning before allowing three runs on two hits, a pair of walks, and a hit batter.
The right-hander didn’t make his MWL debut until April 13, tossing three innings (1 R) against Lake County in a start. Underwood spent the rest of the season setting down MWL hitters and earned Pitcher of the Weeks honors for July 1-6 with six shutout innings against Clinton with 6 K. He fanned a career-high eight July 11 vs. Beloit and went six innings five times in his 21 starts. Underwood was one of four KC pitchers to throw over 100 innings and was second on the staff with 84 K and a 2.50 ERA. In the playoffs, Underwood allowed three runs on five hits in a no decision against Wisconsin in the first round. He capped off his ’14 season in impressive fashion with six no-hit frames against Lake County in the MWL finals and matched a career-high with 8 K.
Underwood’s education will continue at Myrtle Beach and similar to last year, it looks like the Cubs will bring him along slowly out of spring training as his throwing sessions have been limited. Another solid season should have Underwood ranked among the game’s top pitching prospects as his fastball’s mph should be enough to draw the attention of the “pundits” and baseball “experts”. They should also notice his ability to command the breaking ball and not relying on the fastball to get hitters out.