Jul 25, 2024  |  
 | Remer,MN
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NextImg:Cubs prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong needs to make some adjustments at plate

The 1992 film ‘‘A League of Their Own’’ tells the story of elite run-preventer Kit Keller delivering a World Series title for her team by making a critical swing adjustment and barreling one of the high fastballs that had long bedeviled her at the plate.

In the Hollywood ending that the Cubs envision for prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong, whose glove in center field makes him one of the best prospects in the game despite some uncertainty surrounding his bat, he simply would take the high fastball and get ahead in the count.

“I don’t think he has to cover it,” Triple-A Iowa hitting coach John Mallee said of high heaters. “He’s going to need to learn how to take it and just fight it off. Having [Mike] Trout over the years and guys that didn’t handle the top rail [of the strike zone], they didn’t change their path to get to it. They learned how to take it.”

With a blunt, self-effacing manner that will make him a go-to option for the last five minutes of local newscasts for years to come, Crow-Armstrong admits to a tinkering streak with his offense. He will play around with different stances and setups for his lefty stroke. And no one advances from high school, even an elite one such as Harvard-Westlake, to Triple-A in three years without some inefficiencies being smoothed out. Being a traditional low-ball hitter is not something to run from but to embrace and improve.

“I wouldn’t be up here if my swing sucked,” Crow-Armstrong said. “Until something’s drastically wrong, it’s never going to be the swing. It’s always going to be your brain.”

What seems to be going on in Crow-Armstrong’s brain is an acceptance that his hit tool is fallible.

“I’m going up to bat, and the takes, I see now they set you up for success,” Crow-Armstrong said. “It is really OK to give up that ball on the inner rail or the outer rail or the top rail. There’s a lot of times in this game where you’ve just got to tip your cap.”

Crow-Armstrong was a high-contact, high-average hitter in Single-A, but the Cubs have been ushering in an identity change in response to more sophisticated pitching and in line with his strengths. Despite Crow-Armstrong’s plus speed, slight frame and what Mallee describes as a line-drive swing, they see the requisite pop and swing plane to drive pitches for extra bases.

It’s only after he has sent a ball screaming to the gap that Crow-Armstrong can focus on being a speedy pest on the basepaths, where he has eclipsed 30 stolen bases in back-to-back seasons.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a super-high contact rate,” Mallee said. “I just think his [swing] path works so good that he handles multiple pitches in the zone. When he stays in the zone, his path is so good that it allows him to cover both sides of the plate.”

Mallee sometimes wishes Crow-Armstrong wasn’t so adept at handling low pitches. His chases out of the zone below the belt tend to result in weak contact early in counts rather than just swinging strikes. If that’s trimmed down, Mallee sees Crow-Armstrong’s vulnerability upstairs no larger than that of any other typical lefty power hitter — but with perhaps the best center-field defense he has ever seen mixed in.

Even with the foreseeable slowdown for a 21-year-old at Triple-A due to the rigidity of the automated strike zone and major-league-quality reports on his swing tendencies, Crow-Armstrong blew past last season’s home-run and walk totals in fewer plate appearances against stronger competition. Better yet, he has a facility for absorbing concepts.

“I’ve tried doing less, and more has come out of it,” Crow-Armstrong said.

The more he leans into that, the better Crow-Armstrong will be set initially for a supporting role in an established clubhouse in Chicago. He fits into an organizational emphasis on up-the-middle defense that is already producing returns with a competitive season.

As a center fielder who prides himself on scouting out his surroundings, Crow-Armstrong already is aware of the stage for his opening scene. He has been briefed on the swirling winds and has ideas on how the ivy will affect caroms and his positioning and how the brick wall affects the shoulders of over-ambitious outfielders trying to make highlight-reel plays.

“I don’t think I’ll have as much of an emphasis on making that play at Wrigley,” Crow-Armstrong said. “Every other park is fair game.”

He’s learning already.