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Cubs' Pete Crow-Armstrong 'sees the big picture' in wanting Cody Bellinger back

Ryan Herrera Avatar
February 27, 2024

MESA, Ariz. — Since the end of the 2023 season, Pete Crow-Armstrong has said all the right things.

He’s been very honest about what he needed to work after his first taste of the big leagues. He’s shown self-awareness about his place on the Cubs, noting at the beginning of spring training that, “There’s nothing that says ‘Pete’s gonna be the center fielder of the Chicago Cubs.'”

And of course, there’s the message he delivered about Cody Bellinger at Cubs Convention, one he’s echoed every time he’s been asked about it since: “I want him to come back.”

“I love Cody,” Crow-Armstrong said at the beginning of spring training. “That’s my friend, bottom line. He was only ever really good to me as a friend but also as a teammate and guy in the clubhouse. You hear the dudes talk about him. Everybody loves that guy. Everybody shares that same thing with me. But you get everything in this game by what you do on the field, so that is what it is. If Cody comes back, that’s great. That gives us a better chance to win.”

Crow-Armstrong is well aware that his own opportunities at the big league level could be affected by the Cubs bringing Bellinger back. He’s also been quick to mention Mike Tauchman as someone who was productive last season in center and shouldn’t be forgotten.

It’s clear he tries to look at things from a lens of “how can this help the Cubs win baseball games.” That mentality at 21 years old isn’t lost on his new manager.

“It’s a signal that Pete sees the big picture, and he’s able to kind of get outside of himself a little bit,” Craig Counsell said. “That’s just maturity, really. I think that’s what it is. So, obviously a sign we really like.”

The Cubs made Bellinger’s three-year deal (worth $80 million, with opt outs after the first two seasons) official Tuesday, so nobody is talking in hypotheticals anymore. He is once again a Cub.

What does that mean for the rest of the roster? The Cubs’ plan is to give Michael Busch, who they acquired from the Dodgers in January, the opportunity to take over first base. Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki are holding down the corner outfield spots. The logical place for Bellinger now is to start the season in center field.

Obviously, that could affect Crow-Armstrong’s own big league opportunities.

He’s a great defensive center fielder with potential to be considered the best when he eventually establishes himself in the majors. He’s also got the speed and the instincts to wreak havoc as a baserunner. So, he could certainly help this team now, even as a role player versus an everyday starter.

But he also left last season with clear areas of improvement. He just didn’t quite look ready offensively, and he had some baserunning errors reminiscent of a player still learning that not everything he could do in the minors will translate to the majors.

So yes, there is a way for Crow-Armstrong to have a positive impact on the team at the beginning of the year, even with Bellinger on board. But is that a better course of action than letting him start the season in Triple-A with the chance to play every single day?

“Pete’s a player that he just benefits from being on the field and playing,” Counsell said. “He’s just gotta experience baseball, because he’s at a point where stacking up at-bats, stacking up experiences on defense, on the bases, they make him a better player. He’s just at that age where big jumps can still happen.

“Look, this is the question you get to with a lot of players at this point, right? And that means their big league product, it’s not finished, and there’s gonna be struggles in that part of it. I don’t know if there’s a ‘right’ decision there. We’re gonna have to make a decision.”

Counsell has noted that Crow-Armstrong is at the age where he’d be a college senior (he’ll turn 22 next month). He’s young, and with that, there’s development left.

The Cubs were impressed with the way Crow-Armstrong responded to the end of the season, they were happy with how he attacked the winter, and of course, they were glad to hear him welcoming an addition like Bellinger.

“I think he’s in a great mental space,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “He looks great physically. He’s been working on his swing. And he’s a good teammate. He wants the Cubs to win. I think he knows he’s a really good player, I think he knows he can help us win baseball games, and he wants other people around here that can help us win games, too.”

Again, Crow-Armstrong wanted Bellinger to come back.

Sunday morning, hours after the news broke, he said he hadn’t reached out to Bellinger yet because “I’m waiting to just give him a hug in person.” He made it clear he thinks the front office “did the right thing,” and he said he has “all the faith in the world” that Bellinger will bring the same energy that resonated with the entire team last season.

But even though Crow-Armstrong welcomes Bellinger back, he’ll also have to welcome the reality that his next big league opportunity may not come as soon as he hopes. The lineup, at least in the spots he could play, is basically set.

If he wants to get another shot sooner rather than later, it’s up to him to prove the Cubs can’t not have him on the major league team.

“We’re gonna keep trying to make the team better,” Counsell said. “It’s harder to be on a good team as a player, and that’s how it should be. You have to earn it. That’s how we should always want it to be is that it’s a tough environment of, like, you gotta earn at-bats.

“… From PCA’s perspective, look, he’s 21, college senior [age]. There’s a ton of baseball in front of him. If I was Michael Busch [who’s 26 years old], I’d be like, ‘I’m ready for the big leagues,’ but I think from PCA’s perspective, he’s got things to prove.

“That’s his job is to kind of prove it to us and kind of beat down the door and tell us, ‘I belong here, and you can’t play a game without me.'”

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