The Cubs announced Tuesday that they’ve designated right-hander Duane Underwood Jr. for assignment in order to open a spot on the 40-man roster for Ryan Tepera, whose previously reported one-year deal is now official.
Underwood, 26, was a second-round pick back in 2012 and has spent parts of the past three seasons in the Majors with Chicago. On the one hand, Underwood’s 5.20 ERA in that time is obviously an eyesore. On the other, Underwood has punched out 27.7 percent of his opponents against a strong 7.7 percent walk rate while averaging better than 94 mph on his heater. He whiffed a career-high 30.7 percent of opponents in 20 2/3 innings last year and also recorded a career-best 15 percent swinging-strike rate.
Home runs have been Underwood’s undoing, as he’s been tagged for eight round-trippers in just 36 1/3 big league innings (2.0 HR/9). That’s likely due in large part to a four-seamer that doesn’t miss bats at a prolific rate and has well below-average spin. Underwood decreased the usage of that four-seamer in 2020 and instead leaned into his curveball and particularly his changeup at career-high rates. The latter pitch was particularly encouraging, as evidenced by a huge 53.2 percent whiff rate from opponents.
At the end of the day, however, the results simply weren’t there for Underwood. He yielded four homers on that four-seamer, and opponents batted .342/.395/.712 on plate appearances ending in his heater. Still, the spike in changeup usage and the success he had with that pitch could pique the interest of another team. Underwood did give up one big fly on the changeup, but overall opponents batted just .190/.227/.381 on plate appearances ending in that pitch.
Underwood doesn’t have minor league options remaining, so he’d need to break camp with another club or else once again be designated for assignment. The Cubs have a week to trade him or attempt to pass him through outright waivers. If he goes unclaimed on waivers, he could return to Major League camp as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training.