CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — As the Cubs opened a three-game series against the Mets on Monday, Pete Crow-Armstrong was gearing up for the postseason with Single-A South Bend.
Crow-Armstrong, of course, was the prospect the Cubs acquired in a trade that sent two-time All-Star Javy B?ez and right-hander Trevor Williams to New York last summer.
Entering Monday, B?ez was hitting .231 with the Tigers. And Williams, on pace for a career-best 3.00 ERA this season, was a thin silver lining for the Mets looking back at a trade that now seems to have tilted in the Cubs’ favor. Crow-Armstrong is the Cubs’ No. 1 prospect.
“He has a chance to be a face of our franchise, a very electric player,” South Bend coach Lance Rymel said. “I think he takes accountability with that.”
Crow-Armstrong scoffed when asked if he pays attention to prospect rankings — “I couldn’t care less about any of that stuff.” He told the Sun-Times he didn’t even receive many congratulatory texts when he rose to the top of MLB Pipeline and Baseball America’s updated Cubs rankings last month.
“A lot of people that are close to me know that I don’t really pay all that much mind to those either,” he said. “I’d much rather somebody text me about a game that we just played than any of that.
“It’s a nice nod, for sure. And I appreciate it because, one, they didn’t have to put me there. And two, I do the work, and then I’m with a lot of other really, really special names on that list. So, it’s definitely a very nice nod, but doesn’t affect what I do out there.”
Crow-Armstrong continues to prove he’s deserving of the nod.
He began the season, his first full professional season and first in the Cubs organization, in Low-A Myrtle Beach. After hitting .354 there, he earned a June promotion.
His success didn’t immediately translate, and he missed two weeks with a bruised right hand/wrist — something he’d rather not experience again but describes as a learning experience.
He’d been sidelined for most of the 2021 season with a torn laburnum in his right shoulder, but this year was the first time he’d sustained an in-season injury with an expectation to return.
“A little bit of a moment for me to step back and kind of reevaluate how I want to treat my time on the field and even respect the game a little bit more,” he said. “And, you know I think it was a good thing, because I got to sit there and not be able to play and had to use those two weeks wisely.”
Since returning, he’s hit .299, leading the current South Bend roster in that area. He represented the organization at the All-Star Futures Game in Los Angeles, his hometown, where his family and other familiar faces packed the stands. From center field, he got to play catch with a childhood friend over the wall.
The last time Crow-Armstrong had played at Dodger Stadium, he and Harvard-Westlake High School lost California’s Southern Section Division I state championship game, shut out by Cypress. Many of those same former teammates came to support him at the Futures Game.
“It was cool to be able to walk onto that field with a different mindset, for a different reason this time,” he said.
Rewriting history in a way?
“In a way, maybe,” he said. “But hopefully there’s bigger moments in my career as well that we can say we rewrote history.”
Crow-Armstrong is well on his way to ensuring there will be.
In the outfield, his highlight reel keeps growing. Hitting coach Dan Puente pointed to a play in early July at Beloit, when Crow-Armstrong sprinted from the opposite-field gap to the warning track in left-center to make a sliding catch.
“It’s probably the best play I’ve ever seen live,” Puente said. “He does something every single game, whether with the bat or the glove, that is just special. He’s one of the most exciting players I would say in this league, if not all professional baseball.”
Crow-Armstrong made a subtler choice for his favorite. In Fort Wayne last month, with a runner on first, he picked a blooper in shallow center field and fired to second on the run for a force out.
“It’s not always the ones where I’m gonna be diving or sliding or anything,” he said. “It’s the little plays that stand out to me.”
At the plate, he’s hit 16 home runs, which he said is the most he’s hit in his life. He remembers the subject of power coming up in pre-draft interviews with various teams, before the Mets drafted him No. 19 overall in 2020.
“I knew it was there,” Crow-Armstrong said. “It was just a matter of putting it all together.”
Jared Banner, now the Cubs vice president of player development, was heading the Mets’ player development department when Crow-Armstrong was telling teams just that.
“I didn’t have any of those conversations with him directly, but that doesn’t surprise me,” Banner said. “From the day I met Pete, he was always really confident in himself and his abilities. And unfortunately, he got cut short in showing it in his first [pro] season, but he’s definitely showing it now.”
Puente pointed, in part, to the strength that Crow-Armstrong added in the prospect camp the Cubs held this past winter.
“The exit velocities are good, and his [bat] path, when he’s able to be selective on pitches, he can really elevate the ball – not just pull side but opposite opposite-field too,” Puente said. “He’s got some juice the other way.”
Crow-Armstrong said during the offseason camp the prospects had conversations about being part of a future championship core for the Cubs. But those faded into the background when the season started. He has his sights set on winning a ring this year.
The South Bend Cubs finished the season with a five-game series in Cedar Rapids, and on Tuesday they open the postseason with a best-of-three league championship series against the same team. Before rain canceled their game last Saturday, they were set up to play as many as nine straight games against the Kernels.
When Crow-Armstrong stepped up to the plate for his first at-bat of the series, he said Kernels catcher Pat Winkel asked him, “You ready for nine?”
“In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘You ready for eight?'” Crow-Armstrong said. “… We’re going to go win at home [in Game 1 of the League Championship Series], and then we’re going to come back here one more time, say goodbye to Cedar Rapids and move on to the next. That’s that’s the plan.”