Nearly a year ago, Pete Crow-Armstrong’s injury-shortened debut season took another twist.
Crow-Armstrong, the New York Mets’ first-round pick in 2020, was injured six games into the schedule and had season-ending surgery to repair the torn labrum in his right shoulder. Those games would stand as his only action in the Mets organization.
Then he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for shortstop Javier Báez and right-hander Trevor Williams. Just days away from that anniversary, Crow-Armstrong admits it feels as if even more time has passed. When he looks at the talent he has played with this season, the prospect can’t help but gush.
“That’s one thing I love about the place the Cubs are in right now,” Crow-Armstrong told the Tribune by phone this week. “I think a lot of people are worried about what’s happening in the big leagues and fans are stressing out and stuff, but from top to bottom, the Cubs are in a really good spot. We’ve got a lot of guys in the lower levels doing the work and we’re trying our best to get up there.
“At the end of the day, all our goals are to be able to impact the club in the big leagues, and that’s what we’re here doing is getting ready to do that.”
With the way Crow-Armstrong has continuined to trend upward in his development, the 2021 trade eventually could be a steal for the Cubs. Four of the Cubs’ top-10 prospects are currently at Low-A Myrtle Beach or High-A South Bend while two others — left-handers Jordan Wicks and DJ Herz — recently were promoted to Double-A Tennessee.
Crow-Armstrong has quickly become a top-100 prospect in baseball, ranked No. 33 by Baseball American and No. 77 by MLB.com. And among Cubs prospects, Baseball America’s midseason update has Crow-Armstrong as their top position player, moving him ahead of outfielder Brennen Davis.
“We don’t put limits on any of our guys, we’re not going to rush things either,” vice president of player development Jared Banner said of Crow-Armstrong’s big-league timeline. “Ultimately his performance is going to tell us what he’s ready for. So far, he’s done a great job, and we’ve been somewhat aggressive with him.”
Crow-Armstrong’s first full professional season had him representing the Cubs in the Futures Game.
Playing in the July 16 showcase carried extra meaning for Crow-Armstrong, who grew up about 20 miles away from Dodger Stadium and had a lot of friends and family at the game. He called it a very special, surreal experience.
“Just getting to remind people that the Cubs prospects are here and there could have been a whole number of guys that got selected for this game, I feel very fortunate that it was me,” Crow-Armstrong said. “I’m looking forward to watching whoever does it next year.”
Crow-Armstrong doubled and scored a run for the National League team. At one point, he was mic’d up while manning center field in the sixth inning.
“The mic’d up part was a little nerve-wracking,” Crow-Armstrong said. “It was new, but it was fun. I felt like I did all right. I felt like an FBI agent with the earpiece thing.”
He was sidelined for two weeks in mid-June with a bone bruise stemming from jamming his wrist and hand on a feetfirst slide into second base. He otherwise has been healthy, and it’s showing in his offensive production.
“I don’t think that the game changes all that much as you go up,” Crow-Armstrong said. “It’s just more strikes and guys have better command of all their pitches. So it’s about staying true to my approach still and keeping the good at-bats coming. I think once I started doing a little bit more of that, then the numbers started speaking for themselves.”
Crow-Armstrong faced an adjustment period after his promotion May 30 from Myrtle Beach to South Bend. He went from hitting .220/.230/.458 and a .687 OPS through 14 games in June to producing a .274/.312/.562 line and an .873 OPS through 16 games in July with South Bend.
“When you move up a level, you don’t become deprived of good pitches to hit, it’s just about being selective enough to get them,” Crow-Armstrong said. “Being an aggressive hitter, it’s being able to find a balance of aggressiveness and selectivity. And then with that comes the quality of at-bats and the better swing decisions.
“That was definitely something I could group into that first month of a slight struggle, but this season’s a learning curve for me. It’s a whole process, and I’m trusting in it.”
Crow-Armstrong also credited the Cubs for providing a lot of data and analytics to help him as needed.
“There’s not a lot of information you’re searching for because they’ve provided the necessary tools and information to face any challenge head-on,” Crow-Armstrong said. “It’s another thing I’m learning — you can’t do it by yourself.”
Crow-Armstrong’s performance through 68 games at two levels hasn’t necessarily surprised the Cubs. Banner noted that, if anything, the organization is even more excited.
“We knew he had some power, but maybe not quite this much,” Banner said. “He’s gotten a lot stronger. His swing’s gotten even better over time. But he does a lot of things really well, and we knew that. He’s just gotten a chance to go out on the field and show that this year.”
The increased power numbers take the left-handed-hitting Crow-Armstrong’s offensive profile and all-around value to another level. In 68 games between Low A and High A this year, 33 of his 89 hits (37%) have gone for extra bases, including 13 home runs and eight triples.
Crow-Armstrong believes he always has been capable of driving the ball for extra-base hits.
“I’ve been saying that since I was in high school,” he said. “It’s just a matter of showing I can do it, and with a bigger sample size of games it’s becoming more apparent that I do have that in the tank.”
The power production isn’t a result of Crow-Armstrong trying to sell out for power. Rather, he attributes it to a cleaner swing and better decisions.
“I’m just looking to drive the ball and catch my barrels,” Crow-Armstrong said. “It may be a surprise to some people or not, but with the barrels that I keep catching, I’ll keep hitting some over the fence.”
Crow-Armstrong’s success is predominantly coming versus pitchers older than him. Only 22 of his 321 plate appearances this year have been against pitchers younger than 20 years old. That’s not on his radar when he steps in to the batter’s box. But it highlights how the Cubs have challenged Crow-Armstrong and other young hitters in their system, such as fellow 20-year-old South Bend outfielder Owen Caissie, who has not faced a pitcher younger than him this year.
“I want the best,” Crow-Armstrong said. “I want to keep getting challenged and I want to keep showing that I can face these challenges head on and come out successful and come out a little bit better for it.”
Crow-Armstrong’s offensive production and development shouldn’t overshadow his stellar defensive work in center field. He possesses a good arm and the quickness and instincts to potentially win a Gold Glove. He has made highlight-reel catches, and if Crow-Armstrong has his way, it’s only the beginning.
“There’s a lot more coming,” Crow-Armstrong said. ”I would honestly say I haven’t even had that much opportunity to make a whole lot of those plays just because our pitching staff hasn’t really allowed hitters to get balls over our heads all that much. If the play’s going to happen, it’s going to be made.
“Our outfielders, our infielders, we’re always ready for it and we’re all more than capable of making the SportsCenter play. You’ve seen it from plenty guys, not just myself.”
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