Even during batting practice, Cubs manager David Ross says he can see how much fun Pete Crow-Armstrong has in center field. The kid will read the practice swings, trying to time his first step perfectly while making a split-second route plan, then race to track down as many baseballs dropping into his orbit as possible.
“He loves running them down out there,” Ross told reporters on a recent morning this week in Arizona.
Crow-Armstrong finally got to show off his defensive skills with a highlight-reel play in a big league setting in the seventh inning Tuesday. MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 Cubs prospect sprinted from center field to the deep right-center gap, reaching out to make a lunging grab on the warning track to rob the Rangers’ Ezequiel Duran of extra bases.
As the pitch left the hand of Cubs lefty Eric Stout, Crow-Armstrong’s brain was already sorting through the visual data and weighing it against his memory database. It was an offspeed pitch from Stout. Duran is a right-handed batter. Even before the bat made contact, Crow-Armstrong was readying for something hit to his left.
“I like to read swings,” Crow-Armstrong told Marquee Sports Network. “So I kind of try to get a little bit of a head start based on what that swing looks like -- whether that's gaining ground or just kind of anticipating where that ball's going to be. So I definitely had a feeling where it was going to be hit.”
And that is what is helping Crow-Armstrong -- a Minor League Gold Glove Award winner last season -- develop into an elite center fielder.
Crow-Armstrong’s route to Duran’s deep drive was precise. Combined with his plus speed, that made an all-out dive unnecessary, since the 20-year-old center fielder had covered so much ground in a short amount of time. After he snared the baseball, Crow-Armstrong’s momentum led to a head-first slide across the warning track. He stood at the base of the padded wall and maintained a stoic expression as the crowd reacted.
“A ball from a right-hander in that gap is easier than most to field,” Crow-Armstrong told Marquee. “You know the trajectory, right? You know how that ball spins. So I was just running with it. I was letting it tell me where I needed to end up. I had to check the wall a couple times, but yeah, I felt like I had it the whole way.”
Maybe Crow-Armstrong expected it to be a catch from the time the ball met the bat, but Ross quipped that the play “brought me up out of my seat.”
“That was a heck of a play,” the Cubs' skipper said. “We've heard a lot about his athleticism and his ability to go get the baseball. I haven't seen one better than that this year, that's for sure. That was a spectacular play.”