Yankees sign workhorse ex-Pirates reliever to minor-league deal

Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs / Jonathan Daniel/GettyImages
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After doing the heavy lifting with Juan Soto while awaiting the result of 18 months of clandestine negotiations with Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the Yankees have finally addressed the Scranton Shuttle.

Following in the footsteps of 2023 greats like Nick Ramirez, Zach McAllister and Anthony Misiewicz, the Yankees welcomed Duane Underwood Jr. to the fold on Thursday night, announcing a minor-league pact.

While the same deal was the kiss of death for Billy McKinney -- he signed one last week, then was immediately shipped to Pittsburgh for international cash -- Underwood, a 29-year-old former second-rounder from the 2012 draft -- could end up climbing the ladder if he can prove to be durable once again.

2023, spent with the Pirates, will go down as his worst MLB season to date; the righty was only able to muster up 24.1 innings with a 1.44 WHIP before being DFA'd and sent to the minors. Now, he's got a fresh start in an organization that should feel like a pretty comfortable landing spot for most adrift bullpen arms.

Yankees sign reliever Duane Underwood Jr. to minor-league deal

Underwood Jr.'s most prolific campaign was his age-26 season in 2021, where he tossed 72.2 underrated innings. His FIP largely matched his ERA (4.27/4.33), meaning he did a surprisingly adept job at navigating his high WHIP (1.431, on the strength of 77 hits allowed). Based on the underlying metrics, though, he vastly improved year-over-year in 2022, with his barrel percentage reaching the 97th percentile and his ground ball percentage soaring to the 82nd. His WHIP was, essentially, the exact same, registering once more at 1.43.

Underwood Jr., a rare five-pitch reliever, deviates from Matt Blake's preferred mold, splitting his arsenal nearly equally between his sinker, change, cutter and curve, working off his four-seam fastball a mere 3.6% of the time in 2023, down from a high of 56.2% back in 2019. As his four-seam usage has dropped, so has his effectiveness. A little birdie tells us that Blake and Co. might attempt to restore some emphasis to the pitch while reworking Underwood Jr.'s arsenal.

You likely won't see him travel north for the opener but, like most Yankees depth arms, he's more than likely going to appear in a big-league game before 2024 has wrapped. If he bursts on the scene like Ramirez did in 2023, he could quickly become embedded in the bullpen.

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