We now have a better understanding why the Cubs were preferring to have Tyler Chatwood go today and Mike Montgomery tomorrow, as they were wanting to give Jon Lester (119 pitches last time out) extra rest before his next start.
Alas – but it’s a nice things! – Chatwood’s wife went into labor earlier today, so Montgomery started, and now the Cubs will call up pitching prospect Duane Underwood, Jr. to make his big league debut tomorrow night against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Good luck, young man.
Underwood, 23, was the Cubs’ second round pick in the first draft under the current administration (2012), and his talent has always been there. He has a very live fastball and a usable breaking pitch, but command has always been the question (as it is for so many young pitchers).
This year, pitching at AAA for the first time, Underwood has continued the success he saw last year, when he finally seemed to work out his command issues at AA. Yes, Underwood sports a so-so 4.27 ERA, but that is largely because of a .308 BABIP that I suspect is a bit higher than he deserves, and an absolutely insane 54.7% LOB rate. I presume that’s just a matter of horrible luck in sequencing, but his LOB rate was also shockingly low last year, so I suppose it’s modestly plausible that he has simply pitched more poorly with runners on base the last couple years.
He’s got a solid 20.0% strikeout rate this year, and an excellent 6.7% walk rate and 0.38 HR/9. Underwood is not a groundball guy, generally using that lively fastball to generate weak fly balls (his infield fly ball rate has always been comically high). If Underwood is on, he’s owning the top of the zone, getting lots of lazy fly balls, and isn’t walking anyone. Obviously, if the command is off, though, that’s the kind of pitcher who can get torched in a hurry.
Hopefully he’s got his best command, and the Dodgers are unable to square him up, like so many minor leaguers have been.
You don’t want to have to bring in a fill-in starter – much less two in the span of three days when you have five healthy starting pitchers – but Underwood is a legitimate big league prospect, so it’s not as seeing him make a big league start at this point in his career, in isolation, is a bad thing. I’m excited he’s getting this chance, which may have otherwise gone to Adbert Alzolay if he’d been healthy. It stinks that Alzolay is out, but Underwood is a nice arm to get a shot.