CHICAGO — There’s a vibrancy around the Chicago Cubs that can’t be faked. It’s the noise from 40,000 fans at Wrigley Field and the roars of the aircraft gearing up for the Chicago Air and Water Show. It’s checking the scoreboard for updates on the other teams in the National League playoff race. It’s moving forward without All-Star pitcher Marcus Stroman and figuring out the plan to win the next game. It’s Christopher Morel celebrating shirtless in the middle of the Friendly Confines after hitting a walk-off three-run homer to end the City Series.
It’s also talking about prospects as specific pieces to help the major-league club right now, and not anointing them as future franchise saviors. Pete Crow-Armstrong and Jordan Wicks are squarely on the radar as the Cubs try to map out the final 42 games of the season and plan for a playoff run.
At the moment, the Cubs don’t need Crow-Armstrong’s potential Gold Glove defense in center field because they have Cody Bellinger performing at an MVP level and Mike Tauchman excelling as a role player. For now, the Cubs can cover Stroman’s starts with a combination of Javier Assad, Drew Smyly and Hayden Wesnseski rather than promoting Wicks from Triple-A Iowa.
Mike Tauchman has found success by knowing who he is and embracing that
But things happen and plans change, especially for a team that entered the season with low external expectations, raised hopes with a strong start, sunk to 10 games under .500 in June and then forced the front office to become buyers at the Aug. 1 trade deadline. The active roster will expand from 26 to 28 players in September. Crow-Armstrong and Wicks are viewed as polished players with advanced skills that match immediate roster needs.
Crow-Armstrong and Wicks also aren’t on the 40-man roster yet and they don’t need to be protected from the Rule 5 draft this offseason. That is a hurdle for an organization that values every roster spot, tries to preserve flexibility and sees opportunities with particular types of pitchers who may need a change of scenery. Under certain circumstances, however, the 40-man issue should not be insurmountable.
Pete Crow-Armstrong sends the fans home happy with this two-run walk-off homer! pic.twitter.com/uM7eH6MhWO
— Iowa Cubs (@IowaCubs) August 16, 2023
“Look at 2019 — we brought Nico (Hoerner) off his couch to play shortstop,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said before Wednesday’s 4-3 comeback win over the Chicago White Sox.
Near the end of that turbulent season, the Cubs needed a shortstop because Javier Báez fractured his left thumb, Addison Russell was being evaluated for a possible concussion and Dixon Machado was on the injured list. Hoerner, who had already gone home to the Bay Area after playing 70 games with Double-A Tennessee, became the first player from the 2018 draft class to make his major-league debut on Sept. 9, 2019.
“We’ve been creative when we feel like it’s the right thing to do for the organization, but we’re not in that position right now,” Hoyer said. “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 or when you’re building, it’s a lot easier to be clinical in those kinds of decisions.”
Wicks, who will turn 24 on Sept. 1, is a 6-foot-3, 220-pound left-hander who has already made a successful leap from Double A to Triple A this year. When the Cubs selected him out of Kansas State with their first-round pick in the 2021 draft, they projected he would be a fixture in their rotation. With that size, a good mix of pitches, and an ability to process information and make adjustments, the Cubs view him as a good match for their game-planning system and strong defense. At the latest, he’s already on schedule to make his major-league debut at some point next season.
Jordan Wicks has been consistently stellar for the @IowaCubs over the last few weeks.
Tonight: 5 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 5 K, 1 BB
Last start: 5 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 3 K, 2 BB
Start before that: 5 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 K, 3 BB
He did it tonight against an entire lineup of righties.
— Alex Cohen (@voiceofcohen2) August 11, 2023
PCA could be Nico 2.0 if the Cubs remain in playoff contention and ultimately decide they need Crow-Armstrong’s speed and defense to help them win close games. Crow-Armstrong, a first-round pick in the 2020 draft, was acquired from the New York Mets in the Báez deal at the 2021 trade deadline. Crow-Armstrong, 21, grew up in Southern California playing against elite competition and playing for Team USA, experiences that sharpened his instincts and reinforced his confidence.
Recently promoted from Tennessee, Crow-Armstrong has 15 hits through his first 12 games with Iowa, including four home runs and three doubles plus nine walks. He could be an asset if the Cubs need to steal a base in the late innings or shore up their outfield defense or simply find a new spark.
“We’ll see,” Hoyer said. “It’s way too early to talk about that. He hasn’t been in Triple A too long. But he’s playing great and it’s been fun to watch. Obviously, he has a skill set that could certainly benefit us in a lot of ways. Right now, we’re just focusing on his development.”
(Photo of Crow-Armstrong at the 2023 Futures Game: Matt Dirksen / Getty Images)