CHICAGO -- As the Cubs tried to chase down a playoff spot late in the 2019 campaign, a few injuries led to a surprising decision. Chicago summoned Nico Hoerner from Double-A -- his season was actually over and he was back home in California -- and handed him the keys to shortstop for a final push.
It was a chance for Hoerner to expedite his learning and development on the big league stage, where winning was the immediate priority.
“We’ve been creative when we feel it’s the right thing to do for the organization,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “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.
“When you’re not in the race -- when you’re building -- I feel like those are [times when it’s] a lot easier to be clinical in those kinds of decisions.”
The Cubs have spent the last six weeks climbing back into the National League playoff conversation, setting up what should be an exciting September for the ballclub. And that leads to a question: could the North Siders once again take an aggressive approach with a top prospect who could impact the big league team?
Specifically, Cubs fans want to know if a scenario exists in which center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong -- Pipeline’s No. 1 Cubs prospect and the No. 12 prospect in all of baseball -- could reach the Majors down the stretch. PCA recently reached Triple-A Iowa and has been on an impressive tear one rung below The Show.
“We’ll see. He’s been playing great,” Hoyer said. “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. It’s been fun to watch. And obviously he has a skill-set, certainly, that can benefit us in a lot of ways.”
Through a dozen games with Triple-A Iowa, the 21-year-old Crow-Armstrong has already made a handful of highlight-reel catches, while hitting .306/.424/.612 with four homers, three doubles, nine RBIs, nine walks, four steals and 14 runs scored. That includes an 11-for-26 (.423) showing in his last six games.
It has been a continuation of his strong showing at Double-A Tennessee earlier this season. In 73 games at that stop, PCA hit .289/.371/.527 with 14 homers, 19 doubles, five triples, 60 RBIs, 27 steals and 68 runs. He posted a 24% strikeout rate to go with a 9.1% walk rate with the Smokies.
In September, teams have the ability to expand their roster to 28 players. While PCA is not currently on the 40-man roster, the Cubs have two open slots. Given his 80-grade defense, plus speed and lefty bat, there is an argument to be made that he could offer a useful role player on manager David Ross’ bench in late September.
The Cubs have an elite center fielder in Cody Bellinger, and Mike Tauchman has also excelled in center and as a leadoff man for the ballclub. So, maybe like Hoerner in ‘19, Crow-Armstrong is viewed more as a “break glass in case of emergency” option for September. A projected arrival of 2024 may still be the most realistic scenario. That said, PCA’s performance and attributes are at least giving Chicago plenty to think about.
“Right now, we’re just focused on his development,” Hoyer said. “And it’s been fun to watch.”