Pete Crow-Armstrong has been ticketed as the Cubs’ eventual starting center fielder for a while now and nothing he’s done this year or last suggests that won’t be the case before long. He’s one of very few players across all of professional baseball to be given an 80-grade defensive score and his hitting continues to outpace early projections. All that, and he’s not even three months past his 21st birthday.
Given all the factors involved, the Cubs really need to look at moving PCA up to Triple-A Iowa soon so he can begin the next step in a journey that should have him at Wrigley Field by Opening Day next year. That isn’t just a matter of him collecting multiple hits in five of the last seven games to raise his average to .287 with an .877 OPS and eight homers in 197 plate appearances for Double-A Tennessee.
— Tennessee Smokies (@smokiesbaseball) June 13, 2023
Crow-Armstrong has indeed shown he can handle Double-A pitching and it’s not at all uncommon for prospects to skip the next level entirely, but there’s a wrinkle that must be accounted for. It’s actually the same reason the Cubs wanted to get righty Ben Brown up to Iowa quickly. Southern League teams are using a pre-tacked ball this season, which is skewing some of the results from pitchers at that level.
With Brown, the Cubs wanted to make sure his high spin rates weren’t simply a product of the baseball. Getting too much spin appears to be a problem for many other Southern League pitchers because it’s leading to trouble throwing changeups, as Bryan Smith of Bleacher Nation pointed out recently. The lefty-batting Crow-Armstrong will face lots of changeups from righties in the future, so the Cubs should promote him to Iowa soon in order to get him plenty of experience against those pitches.
Pointed out on pod w @OutOfTheVines today but there’s a reason I think PCA needs run in AAA soon: P’s are having a difficult time throwing changeups in Southern Lg with the ball this year. And good RHP changeups will be a thing Pete faces a lot in MLB. Needs reps against them. https://t.co/099r535kjI
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) June 13, 2023
Even if we don’t focus on the very real strategic elements of his future development, PCA has proven he’s getting better as a hitter. Following an adjustment period at the start of his tenure with High-A South Bend, he ended up slashing .287/.333/.498 with a 125 wRC+ and nine homers in 288 PAs. In 89 fewer trips to the plate with Tennessee, the top-rated prospect is slashing .287/.360/.517 with a 136 wRC+ and eight homers. Not bad.
He’s also walking more frequently and striking out less than he did last year, both seemingly conscious changes after starting out with an ultra-aggressive plate approach. After walking four times in his first 25 games, he’s taken 10 free passes in the last 17 games. That latter figure includes multiple walks on four occasions, something he hadn’t done at all in the earlier sample.
As we’ve noted here many times in the past, all this kid has to do in order to have a very successful big league career is be a league-average hitter. The glove will do the rest. But as we’re seeing, he could end up being a dangerous producer at the plate as long as he’s able to continue making the same adjustments we’ve seen from him at each stop so far.