Crow-Armstrong puts on a show in center

March 10th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian's Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

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.”