Armed with MLB experience, Pete Crow-Armstrong ready for next step with Cubs — whenever it comes
When the Cubs promoted Pete Crow-Armstrong from Triple-A last September, it was the culmination of a strong 2023 for their top prospect. The 21-year-old opened the season in Double-A and joined Chicago to help its push for October.
Crow-Armstrong ultimately struggled at the plate in a small sample size, but his experience in the majors could nonetheless prove valuable, and as the Cubs view, hold key lessons entering 2024.
“There’s enough to take from it,” general manager Carter Hawkins said Saturday at Cubs Convention. “Yeah, he’s got stuff to work on — and he’s been working this offseason.
“He’s been with DK, [hitting coach] Dustin Kelly, in Arizona, working on getting his swing a little bit more simple, being able to handle the high fastball a little bit more effectively, and just changing some of his mechanics and approach from that standpoint.”
In his end-of-season meeting with Crow-Armstrong, team president Jed Hoyer called back to his time as Padres general manager, sharing a message similar to what San Diego told Anthony Rizzo in 2011. Rizzo struggled as a rookie and used that experience to make adjustments in the offseason. He had a strong 2012 season after being traded to the Cubs.
Crow-Armstrong hit .283/.365/.511 in 107 games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, also stealing 37 bases to go along with his stellar defense in center field. In 13 games in the big leagues, he went 0-for-14 with 7 strikeouts in 19 plate appearances.
The crux of those struggles involved fastballs. Each of Crow-Armstrong’s 7 strikeouts came against heaters, and opponents threw him four-seamers most frequently. He posted a 58.8% whiff rate against that pitch.
“It’s no secret what I didn’t handle very well last year,” Crow-Armstrong said. “I think on the other side of things, the way I went about my work, based on who I listened to, I think set me up really well to kind of know what I’ve got to do.
“Listening to the right people in the clubhouse and using my time correctly, I think that will take all the external stresses away of whatever I’m worrying about, because I’m always thinking about, if it’s the high pitch, it’s the high pitch. If it’s a ball I didn’t catch the day before, it’s a ball I didn’t catch the day before.
“Jed has done a great job of laying out what he wanted to see from me. So, knowing that, it creates a clear focus for me.”
Crow-Armstrong has spent the bulk of his offseason working with Kelly in Arizona. The two have a rapport dating back several years, to their shared time in the minor leagues. Kelly, who’s entering his second season as Cubs hitting coach, was the organization’s minor league hitting coordinator from 2021-22 — Crow-Armstrong’s first two years in the Cubs system following his trade from the Mets.
Crow-Armstrong said being with Kelly this offseason has been “huge,” and their work has included getting him to feel athletic again in the batter’s box. He said his swing is in a good spot.
“[Kelly] lets me be myself, and I like to play around and collect different feels and whatnot, physically,” Crow-Armstrong said. “He’s there to kind of rein me in sometimes when the focus of the day does get lost. But I wouldn’t say there’s been one main focus. I think everybody knows that I could do a little bit better on the high pitch, whether that’s handling it and hitting it or just refining my zone that much better and not swinging at it.
“I think as we get closer to spring, we’ll probably do a little bit more strike-zone awareness and stuff like that. But as of right now, it’s just been letting me remember the kind of athlete that I am.”
The Cubs are keeping an open mind on Crow-Armstrong entering Spring Training. There is still a month until pitchers and catchers report, and Hoyer teased the potential for more roster additions. Center fielder Cody Bellinger remains a free agent.
“His ability to make those adjustments,” Hawkins said of Crow-Armstrong, “bring them into Spring Training and countered with just the context of which he comes in, in terms of what players we have, will dictate whether he starts in Iowa or whether he starts in Chicago. But I would say both are on the table.”
For Crow-Armstrong, last September was another step in his maturation and development.
“I think I set myself up well for success going into next year, just because I got to spend time around these guys,” he said. “Balancing what I did up there doesn’t really mean much to me, just because it’s all in the past. I’m gonna go 0-for-14, 0-for-19 probably 30 more times in my career, whatever the number is.
“I have trust in the people that have been looking out for me.”