duane underwood pelicans

Duane Underwood (one of the best pitching prospects in the Cubs system) was sent out of big league camp yesterday, before receiving a single inning in a Cactus League game.

Although that might not sound like a big deal – he was never a threat to make the opening day roster, after all – the decision to send him out now was not entirely a product of his readiness for the big leagues. In part, Underwood was sent down because of stiffness in his pitching arm – a bummer for anyone, but especially for him.

Back in July, Underwood underwent an MRI on his (right) pitching elbow, after experiencing discomfort early in the season. Although the results of the MRI were good (no structural damage) they did reveal some inflammation, forcing Underwood to miss a big chunk of the season. When all was said and done (in 2015), he pitched only 73 innings across 14 starts.



Still, his relative youth (now 21, drafted as teenager back in 2012), and immense upside kept him comfortably within several top 100 prospect lists and consistently among the Cubs’ own top 10 (usually top 5-7). Earlier this offseason, Luke recapped Underwood’s progress here, and the future still looked bright. But the biggest key to his success was staying healthy. This setback, minor as it may well be, is not a particularly strong way to start (after all, the biggest indicator of future injury is past injuries).

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

According to Joe Maddon (CSN), the Cubs are being extra cautious right now, given that this is just Spring Training and Underwood was unlikely to make the team, anyway. More importantly, Underwood is still throwing and feeling fine. “He’s on a throwing program right now,” Maddon told Patrick Mooney. “He’s getting close to participating in the games.”

We know that the Spring can do this to pitchers, like Jon Lester’s dead arm last year, because of the time off in between seasons. Ramping back up to mid-season form can take its time and its toll, so the best thing to do is simply pump the breaks and take it slow. The only thing everyone wants is for Underwood to have a full season in the minors in 2016. At that point, he could be knocking on the door of the rotation in 2017.



So, when you take a step back, the story is slightly less discouraging. Obviously, you hope someone with Underwood’s upside and closeness to the majors (if healthy, he should start out in AA Tennessee), could avoid any setbacks whatsoever, but that is not our life and definitely not the life of most pitching prospects.

The next update will likely be his first scheduled appearance in minor league camp, and we’ll be sure to let you know as soon as that happens. Underwood can be a big part of the Cubs’ future, so getting him back on track is crucial.




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