CHICAGO -- Much of Cody Bellinger’s pregame hitting preparation took place in the indoor batting cage down the stretch last season with the Cubs. There was one particular day in mid-September when the veteran made a point to head out to the field.
When center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong got his call to the Majors, Bellinger headed out from the cages in Denver and spent time with the rookie during warmups at Coors Field. It was a small gesture, but one that meant a lot to Crow-Armstrong as he navigated his way through his first day in The Show.
“That in itself was really cool,” Crow-Armstrong said at Cubs Convention last month. “That shows that he cares – plain and simple. And he's a good leader for that. He’s a great clubhouse guy, brings great energy.”
Bellinger remains unsigned, and the North Siders are still an obvious landing spot for the star outfielder. Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has emphasized the need to add offensive help against right-handed pitching. Bellinger checks that box and his ability to move between center and first base still fits Chicago’s roster.
If the Cubs can re-sign Bellinger, there could be a scenario in which both he and Crow-Armstrong have homes on the Opening Day roster. The alternative would be to have the 21-year-old PCA – ranked No. 16 on Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects list – begin the year with Triple-A Iowa, offering a developmental runway back to the big leagues.
Crow-Armstrong was asked if Bellinger’s free agency was in the back of his mind at all as he thought ahead to the upcoming season.
“Yeah, like maybe tucked somewhere back there,” Crow-Armstrong quipped, pointing behind his right ear. “But, I want him to come back. I just like him as a human being and as a teammate.”
The Cubs believe Crow-Armstrong – especially given his elite defensive skills – has the makings of being a long-term fit in center. Chicago also swung a trade this winter to acquire Michael Busch (No. 51 on the Top 100) and plan on giving him a shot to stick as the regular first baseman.
The designated hitter slot can often help with a team’s roster’s flexibility, and the Cubs have a few options on that front. That said, there is another younger player, 24-year-old Christopher Morel, who projects to get plenty of at-bats in that role as things stand right now.
As the Cubs stay in the mix for Bellinger’s services (or consider an alternative like free-agent third baseman Matt Chapman), the team has to balance the idea of leaning more on younger talent, while having longer-term contracts for more tested veterans. The latter helps position the team to contend now, while the former can help make that goal more sustainable.
There is a reason why shortstop Dansby Swanson, sitting on stage at Cubs Con, declared to the delight of fans: “Before we get to next year, we’ve got to re-sign Belli.” The team wants to turn the page on last year’s September fade and get the Cubs back into the postseason.
Crow-Armstrong was in agreement, even knowing Bellinger’s presence could cut into his initial playing time. If anything, the young outfielder knows he can continue to learn and hone his craft under the wing of one of the game’s top center fielders.
“I'm here to win,” Crow-Armstrong said. “And if Cody Bellinger is gonna do that and help us make that happen, then he should be here. That's how I feel. It doesn't affect what I do.”