Allergies, injuries won't keep Underwood down

Prospect listening, learning at first Spring Training

Allergies, injuries won't keep Underwood down

MESA, Ariz. -- The only thing holding Duane Underwood back right now is allergies.

The right-handed pitcher, ranked No. 4 on the list of top 30 Cubs prospects by MLB.com, has been slowed because of the high pollen count in Arizona. That doesn't mean Underwood is not taking advantage of his first big league Spring Training camp.

"Some of the guys have tried to help me out big time," said Underwood, selected in the second round of the 2012 MLB Draft. "[Jake] Arrieta has taught me a couple things already. That's what I'm looking forward to, just learning from a lot of these big leaguers. They have a lot of time and experience."

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Underwood, 21, joked that he needed to get a notebook to keep track of all the tips from Arrieta, the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner.

"[Our talks] have been more about routine and what he does and how he gets ready and how he approaches his day and what he does on days he's starting and what he does on days he's working out," Underwood said. "It's more the mental aspect of the game. I believe that's a real separator when it comes to baseball and a big leaguer versus a Minor Leaguer is the mental part. That's a huge thing and that's what I want to learn about."

Underwood's trajectory in the Cubs organization has been slowed because of injuries. There has been nothing structurally wrong, but he's had to battle ulnar nerve issues. Last season, he went 6-3 with a 2.58 ERA in 14 starts at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach and is projected to start at Double-A Tennessee this year.

"It's a little bit aggravating," he said of his career so far. "I do understand it's a process. Everybody keeps telling me you're not supposed to throw a baseball overhand. It's been a little nerve-wracking, but you have to roll with it. I'm a firm believer in God and I believe God has a plan. Whatever gets thrown my way, I'll adjust to it."

Some players with injuries have to spend the offseason more focused on rehab than on prepping for the upcoming season, but Underwood was able to concentrate on baseball-oriented exercises this winter. He did more yoga to be more flexible, which should help offset the bus rides and plane trips in the Minor Leagues.

During his one-on-one meeting with Cubs manager Joe Maddon, Underwood got a good feel for the skipper.

"You can just tell he gives off good vibes," Underwood said. "He had some good things to say, and I hope I make the team one day to play for him."

Maddon first got a glimpse of the young right-hander last spring during an intrasquad game on one of the back fields at the Cubs' complex. The game was intended to give Arrieta some innings, and Underwood was the pitcher for the other team.

"I think I was more hyped than he was," Underwood said. "I was like, 'I get to throw against Arrieta.' It was pretty cool."

And that was well before Arrieta went on to win 22 games en route to his dominating season.

Maddon was watching the game, and liked what he saw.

"I was excited," Underwood said. "I was throwing really well and the ball was coming out of my hand really good and [Maddon] saw that. That's one of the first times I shook his hand was after that outing. He was like, 'Good outing,' and I said, 'Thank you, sir.' I was so nervous. That was one of my better moments of Spring Training last year. I really enjoyed that."

Underwood is projected to make the bigs in 2017, along with another top pitching prospect, Pierce Johnson. Underwood is hoping there will be more handshakes from Maddon in the future.

"He's got really good stuff," Maddon said. "I remember the velocity, I remember the elevated fastball, I remember the breaking ball. I'd heard about him, and then you look at his delivery -- I'm putting the delivery together with the stuff and I liked that, too. Our guys have spoken highly about him. He's young, great body, wonderful future. He'll keep getting better."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.