Could Cubs call on prospects for reinforcements down the stretch?
Jed Hoyer and the Cubs front office have shown their aggressiveness in the past when it comes to top prospects.
“I mean look at 2019 – we brought Nico [Hoerner] off his couch to play shortstop,” the Cubs president of baseball operations said.
So could the Cubs be assertive once again and call up a top prospect like Pete Crow-Armstrong or Jordan Wicks in the near future?
“I think we’ve been creative when we feel like it’s the right thing to do for the organization,” Hoyer said. “But you know, we’re not in that position right now. But certainly when you have a chance to go to the playoffs and you have a chance to win, you’re a lot more aggressive with those kinds of decisions. And, you know, when you’re not in the race, or you’re building I feel like it’s a lot easier to be clinical in those kinds of decisions than you would if you’re in the race.”
That nexus could change in a few weeks. Come Sept. 1, major league teams can expand their roster to 28, adding a pitcher and position player to their roster. The next few weeks should dictate whether prospects like Crow-Armstrong or Wicks could make their major league debut.
There are several factors that will go into any potential call-up for either Crow-Armstrong or Wicks — primarily need, and that’s why Wicks could be closer than Crow-Armstrong. With the injury to Marcus Stroman and the struggles of Drew Smyly and Hayden Wesneski, the Cubs could opt to go with the 2021 1st-round pick to make some starts for them down the stretch.
Wicks has been solid since he was assigned to Triple-A in late June — and he’s really taken off over his last 4 starts. In that time, he has a 2.29 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and a .197 batting average against in 19.2 innings.
Crow-Armstrong is an interesting case. Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins really brought the idea of Crow-Armstrong making his big-league debut earlier in the week when he mentioned how the 21-year-old was “certainly in the conversation” for a potential call-up, given his success at Triple-A since his promotion.
“He’s been playing great,” Hoyer said. “I mean, I think it’s way too early to talk about that. He hasn’t been in Triple-A too long, but he’s playing great. And it’s been fun to watch. Obviously he has a skillset certainly that can benefit us in a lot of ways. But right now we’re just focused on his development. And he’s been fun to watch.”
The center fielder is hitting .298/.412/.561 with 4 home runs and 4 stolen bases in 14 games with the Iowa Cubs. He’s been lauded for his defense — MLB Pipeline grades it 80 on 80-scale. So, if he were to be called up, Crow-Armstrong could be an interesting option as a defensive replacement late in games in the outfield.
His speed — he has 31 stolen bases in the minors this season — is another intriguing option for the Cubs as they chase down a playoff spot.
The Cubs’ bench currently consists of catcher Miguel Amaya and infielders Patrick Wisdom, Nick Madrigal and the recently recalled Miles Mastrobuoni. Mastrobuoni is third on the team with 10 stolen bases, but Crow-Armstrong would provide another baserunning option late in games, with the ability to play strong defense in the outfield.
The challenge, though, is rosters expand just to 28, not 40, like they have in the past. And there’s a few options currently on the 40-man roster that could be call-ups, too. The Cubs could choose to recall Anthony Kay to have a lefty option in the bullpen, if Smyly stays in the rotation. Or they could call up Caleb Kilian to provide length or recent waiver claim Edwin Uceta as another bullpen arm.
Offensively, the Cubs could add a left-handed bat with power in Matt Mervis or a right-handed outfielder in Alexander Canario, who is in his last option year.
“Obviously, when you’re in a pennant race, you can react differently than you would if you’re not,” Hoyer said. “So if that comes to it, we’ll make those decisions. But right now we don’t have to make those decisions.”