Pressure? What pressure? Beyond rankings, top Chicago Cubs prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong focused on MLB glory

With eyes set on the majors, Pete Crow-Armstrong’s determination fuels his every move as the top Chicago Cubs prospect. (Photo by Joe Eigo/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — Pete Crow-Armstrong, who has identified as the Chicago Cubs’ No. 1 prospect, had a colorful explanation for how he has handled the pressure that comes along with that title.

“I think I’ve handled it very well,” Crow-Armstrong said during a recent break from spring training at Sloan Park. “I don’t think (the pressure) has ever leaked into my play … It’s (expletive) baseball at the end of the day. There’s a lot of us, and I’ve felt the same over the last few years, (expletive) No. 1 prospect, No. 2 (prospect), that could be given to a number of guys in this organization. I don’t feel like that’s a very special thing. I think it’s special in the sense that there’s a lot of us that can hold that “title”.”

“All of that stuff is ridiculous anyways. We’re all here to play baseball. We’re not here to get ranked. We’re here to make the big leagues and win a World Series.”

Crow-Armstrong, 22, already has three seasons of professional baseball under his belt. He was selected 19th overall in the 2020 MLB draft by the New York Mets out of Harvard-Westlake High School — the same high school that rostered three All-Star-caliber starting pitchers in 2012: Max Fried, Lucas Giolito and Jack Flaherty.

Crow-Armstrong’s Mets career lasted six games. Crow-Armstrong was New York’s No. 5 prospect before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in early June 2021. One month later, Crow-Armstrong was traded to the Cubs in exchange for shortstop Javier Báez and starting pitcher Trevor Williams.

Over the next two seasons, Crow-Armstrong quickly rose to the minor league ranks. In addition to producing at a high level offensively, he showcased his ability on defense in center field. Crow-Armstrong won the 2022 MiLB Gold Glove Award in center field, in addition to the MiLB Defensive Player of the Year in 2023.

Crow-Armstrong made his highly-anticipated MLB debut at Coors Field against the Colorado Rockies on Sept. 11, 2023. Over the last three weeks of the season, he made 19 plate appearances, stole two bases but couldn’t muster up a hit.

The Cubs lost 12 of their last 17 games and barely missed the playoffs with an 83-79 record. Even though Crow-Armstrong had only a short stint in Chicago last season, the ending impacted him as if he played in all 162 games.

“We came up short last year, which was very hard for me to swallow, having only been there for a second and feeling like there was much more that I could’ve done to help the situation, or at least improve the situation,” Crow-Armstrong said. “If anything, it just made me hungry. Coming back and getting to be with a lot of the same guys, it’s familiar. I think there’s good stuff going on here.”

Crow-Armstrong played 12 games this year for the Cubs during Cactus League spring training, before getting sent to the Triple-A Iowa Cubs, where he opened the season after the team re-signed 2019 National League Most Valuable Player Cody Bellinger to a three-year, $80 million deal. Through the first week, Crow-Armstrong is 5-for-21 with two triples, two RBI, two stolen bases and five runs scored.

“I love Pete, I think he’s an amazing kid,” Bellinger said at his introductory press conference in late February. “He’s got such a bright future ahead of him. He’s an amazing talent. Actually, during this whole process, we continued to chat, just because I really love the kid. I respect him and how he plays the game and everything.

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“We’ve had a lot of open communication with each other, and it’s nothing but love between us. He’s an amazing talent, and he’s gonna have a really, really long MLB career ahead of him.”

The Cubs’ new manager, Craig Counsell, who watched Crow-Armstrong from the other side of the diamond last season as Milwaukee’s skipper, reminded everyone of Crow-Armstrong’s age.

“Pete’s young — that’s the most impressive thing we have to remember about Pete,” Counsell said. “And I say that in a good way. I think the learning and his exposure to different things and hearing people talk. There’s a lot of learning going on. That’s a big part of this camp for Pete is just understanding that he’s still learning, that he’s super young and making adjustments, and all we ask him to do is kind of focus on getting better everyday.”

So, who has helped the 22-year-old burgeoning star the most during the process?

“My roommates last year, Owen (Caissie) and B.J. (Murray), those are two of my best friends here,” Crow-Armstrong said. “We were just talking about it the other day. The conversations we’ve had over the last couple years, we’ve all played together in High-A, Double-A. B.J. and I in Low-A together. (It’s a) very different relationship than I have with a lot of other people in the world of baseball, since I’ve spent so much time around them.

“Like, you’re seeing the way Owen’s playing right now, like, if that’s not “No. 1 prospect” caliber status, then I don’t know what is.”

The Cubs’ farm system, ranked No. 2 by, is dominated by outfielders like Crow-Armstrong. Caissie, Kevin Alcántara and Alexander Canario, who are all top-12 prospects for Chicago, have played alongside him over the years.

Additionally, the major league roster is filled with plenty of veterans. Two-time Gold Glove winners, Dansby Swanson and Ian Happ, Bellinger and Seiya Suzuki, all have at least seven years of professional baseball experience. The Cubs are 4-2 so far this season, after a series sweep against the Colorado Rockies April 1-3.

“It’s been a lot of different voices and faces. Anybody from Happer (Happ) and Cody (Bellinger) to (Michael) Busch and Dans (Swanson), even conversations with Shōta (Imanaga),” Crow-Armstrong said. “It’s just a nice open forum we have here for improvement.

“I have a great situation.”

During Cactus League play, Crow-Armstrong’s teammates had only positive things to say about his performance on the field, his work ethic and him as a person.

“I think, first and foremost, the most impressive thing is how young he is,” starting pitcher Justin Steele said. “Being in the big leagues already at the age he’s at, I’m pretty sure he could still be in college if he wanted to be. To be in the big leagues and still be the age of a college kid is something really special. You don’t just walk into that.

“The talent, the maturity, all the things it takes to be a big leaguer. For him to already have it, it’s truly special. He’s just a great kid, great head on his shoulders and just a ballplayer.”

Tyler Bednar(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Tyler Bednar expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. Bednar has interned at the Chicago Dogs baseball team in Rosemont, Illinois, and the Miracle League of Arizona in Scottsdale.

Joe Eigo joe EYE-go (he/him)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Joe Eigo expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Eigo is in his third semester at Cronkite News. He has previously worked with Inferno Intel, WCSN, The State Press and The Racing Experts.