Sunday afternoon the Pittsburgh Pirates added right-handed pitcher Duane Underwood Jr. to their bullpen mix for the 2021 season
The battle for spots in the Opening Day bullpen with the Pittsburgh Pirates has been an intense one this spring. As Grapefruit League games continue, this battle will only intensify further. Sunday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Pirates added another arm to this battle with the addition of Duane Underwood Jr.
Underwood Jr. comes to the Pittsburgh Pirates from the Chicago Cubs. The Pirates acquired Underwood Jr. from the Cubs on Sunday afternoon in exchange for first base prospect Shendrik Apostel. This move came after the Cubs designated Underwood Jr. for assignment earlier in the week.
In order to make room for Underwood Jr. on the 40-man roster, the Pittsburgh Pirates desiganted reliever Carson Fulmer for assignemnt. This is the fourth time Fulmer has been desiganted for assignment in the last calendar year, and it’s the second time the Pirates had DFA’d him. Prior to being DFA’d by the Pirates, Fulmer was a reliver the Pirates were going to face a decision with this spring.
Underwood Jr. has pitched 36.1 MLB innings with the Cubs the past three seasons. In these 36.1 innings pitched the 26-year-old righty owns a 5.20 ERA and a 4.85 FIP. However, these results do not tell the entire story.
During his MLB career Underwood Jr. owns a solid 7.7% walk rate and an above league average 27.7% strikeout rate. While Underwood Jr. excels at generating swings and misses, he has been plagued by the home run ball in his career. He has allowed 8 career home runs which comes out to a 1.98 HR/9 rate.
Last season, Underwood Jr. ranked in the 92nd percentile of baseball in whiff rate, 83rd percentile in strikeout rate and 74th percentile in walk rate. Again, Underwood Jr. pitched well and was plagued by the long ball.
Underwood Jr. has a rare five-pitch mix for a reliever. The righty throws a four-seamed fastball, change up, curveball, sinker and a slider. His four-seamer averages 95 MPH and his curveball has had a whiff rate of 32.1% and 34.5% the past two seasons. Underwood Jr. did not start to throw his slider until last season, but it generated a 50% whiff rate.
Pirate pitching coach Oscar Marin has proven he is a big fan of the curveball. Underwood Jr.’s curveball is a plus pitch and one Marin will look to help him perfect. The tools are there for Underwood Jr. to be a quality reliever for the Pirates.
Now in the fold, it would be a surprise if Underwood Jr. did not crack the Opening Day bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Under team control through 2025, Underwood Jr. could become a long-term bulding block in the Priate bullpen.