With the Cubs looking to lock down a playoff spot over the last three weeks of the regular season, per reports, it appears they’ll be asking top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong to help them get there.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan first reported Monday morning the Cubs’ plan to call up the 21-year-old phenom and activate him for Tuesday’s game in Colorado. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand later reported Crow-Armstrong is flying into Denver on Monday, with the possibility that he could be activated in time for Monday night’s series opener against the Rockies.
“We think Pete is really mature, and he’s an amazing competitor,” Cubs vice president of player development Jared Banner said on Aug. 29, when asked if he believed Crow-Armstrong would be ready for a promotion if the front office made that decision. “He shows up every day looking to work and get better, and he’s shown the ability to adjust and respond to adversity when it comes. So, he’s in a really good spot.”
Crow-Armstrong has risen to the top of the Cubs’ prospect rankings, and MLB Pipeline ranks him the No. 12 overall prospect in baseball. Before he makes is highly-anticipated debut, here are five things to know about PCA:
1. He has swung the bat well at every level
While offense hasn’t necessarily been Crow-Armstrong’s calling card in the minors, he’s managed to be a productive hitter at every level in the minors. With Low-A Myrtle Beach and High-A South Bend in 2022, he combined to hit .312 with an .896 OPS. In 73 games with Double-A Tennessee to start to 2023, he hit .289 with an .898 OPS. And since joining Triple-A Iowa on Aug. 1, he’s hit .271 with an .829 OPS.
The Cubs helped him incorporate some minor swing changes that have boosted his power potential. He’s already hit 20 home runs in the minors this year, with six coming in just 34 games at Triple-A. He ended this last stretch slugging .550 in nine September games at Iowa, including two grand slams, a triple and a double in the last week.
Defense and base running (more on those in a second) are likely to be where he contributes most to the Cubs down the stretch, but his bat certainly appears like it’ll be a plus for him at the big league level.
2. He has Gold Glove defensive potential
As much as he’s progressed offensively, Crow-Armstrong is widely seen as an elite defender in center field. So much so that he might be considered among the game’s best defensive outfielders the second he touches a major league field.
Here’s what MLB Pipeline, who gave him an 80 (out of 80) grade in the field, has to say about his defense on their prospect profile:
As exciting as Crow-Armstrong’s enhanced offensive upside is, it pales in comparison to his defense. Scouts give top-of-the-scale grades to his center-field skills, as he exhibits tremendous range from gap to gap with his combination of plus speed and precision reads and routes, and he completes the package with solid arm strength.
Just four Cubs outfielders have ever won a Gold Glove, and only Bob Dernier (1984) did it as a center fielder. It may not be until next year that Crow-Armstrong mans that spot full time, but he might already be under consideration for the award by the time the season starts.
3. He’s also a stolen base threat
When the Cubs need a pinch-runner late in the game, Crow-Armstrong could very well be the guy who comes off the bench to put the pressure on the opponent.
He has 60-grade speed, according to MLB Pipeline, and he’s put that on display throughout his minor league career. In 2022, he swiped 32 bags in 43 attempts. He’s been even better this year, stealing 37 bases and only being caught 10 times.
Led by Nico Hoerner’s 38 steals, five Cubs have stolen 10 bases this season, all having set new career highs. And the Cubs in general have been much more aggressive on the base paths. Possibly aided by rule changes MLB enacted for this season, their total of 123 steals in 2023 is already their most since finishing with that many in 1991. They shouldn’t be any less willing to push the envelope on the bases, and adding Crow-Armstrong to that mix will benefit that aspect of their game strategy.
4. He may not be an everyday player right away
While it’s not a perfect comparison, Crow-Armstrong’s promotion brings to mind Hoerner’s quick rise to the majors. Almost exactly four years ago, the Cubs’ shortstop depth was devastated by injuries. With that team still battling for a playoff spot, they called up Hoerner, who was drafted in the first round just 15 months prior, to take the position.
Even Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer noted Hoerner’s story when asked a few weeks ago about his willingness to be aggressive with minor league call-ups down the stretch.
“Look at 2019; we brought Nico off his couch to play shortstop,” Hoyer said on Aug. 16. “So I mean, I think we’ve been creative when we feel like it’s the right thing to do for the organization. We’re not in that position right now. But certainly, when you have a chance to go to the playoffs and you have a chance to win, you’re a lot more aggressive with those kinds of decisions.”
However, it’s not an exact comparison at the moment, because Crow-Armstrong may not start off with an everyday job. Cubs manager David Ross has maintained that “the guys that got us here” will continue to play. That means Cody Bellinger, Seiya Suzuki, Ian Happ and Mike Tauchman will continue to be in the outfield mix, and Crow-Armstrong likely will play a lesser role in that equation (unless something like an injury requires him to take on more responsibilities).
Still, with his defensive prowess and base running ability, Crow-Armstrong could very much carve out a role to end the season.
5. He was acquired in the Javy Báez trade
When the Cubs sold off most of their core at the 2021 trade deadline, Javier Báez (along with Trevor Williams) was shipped to Queens for a 19-year-old Mets prospect who played just six games after having season-ending surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
While Crow-Armstrong didn’t play much in the minors prior to the Cubs bringing him into the fold, he’s absolutely lived up to any expectations thrust upon him by being the return for a World Series champion. And while Báez has since left New York and struggled the past two seasons in Detroit (74 wRC+ across both years), Crow-Armstrong has quickly turned into quite possibly the face of the Cubs’ future.
It’s safe to say Hoyer is well on his way to being proven right in making that deal two years ago.
And here’s one more fun fact: if Crow-Armstrong makes his debut at Coors Field, it’ll be at the same place that Báez made his. Báez went 1-for-6 on Aug. 5, 2014, in Colorado, which included him hitting the game-winning home run in the 12th inning.