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Cubs’ Craig Counsell explains why top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong will start 2024 season at Triple-A

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The Chicago Cubs made a notable transaction on Friday, optioning top outfield prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong to Triple-A. New manager Craig Counsell subsequently explained the move to the media, noting that the calculus changed for the Cubs once they were able to re-sign Cody Bellinger to a three-year pact worth $80 million in late February.

“Our thought right now,” Counsell said, “is that the best place for PCA to start is in the minor leagues and start his season that way. And then kind of just knock down the door for us and make us kind of figure something out on the major-eague side.”

There’s no reason to believe the demotion for the 21-year-old Crow-Armstrong is related to service-time manipulation. Rather, this is an instance where the Cubs simply have a full outfield depth chart and figure it’s better for the player’s future to get steady at-bats, even if those come on the minor-league side instead of with the big-league club. In addition to Bellinger, the Cubs have Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki locked into the corners, with journeyman Mike Tauchman slotted in as top alternative. The Cubs also have several candidates to slot in at designated hitter and first base, including Patrick Wisdom, offseason addition Michael Busch, and non-roster invitee Garrett Cooper.

Bellinger, for his part, is coming off his finest showing in years. The 2019 National League Most Valuable Player Award winner batted .307/.356/.525 (133 OPS+) with 26 home runs, 97 RBI, and 4.4 Wins Above Replacement last season. While there is some concern about the sustainability of Bellinger’s performance, mostly tracing to his substandard ball-tracking metrics, the Cubs clearly felt that his price tag had fallen into the range where they were willing to run the risk.

Crow-Armstrong, 21, was recently ranked by CBS Sports as the 16th-best prospect in the minors following a season that saw him make his big-league debut. He’s considered to be an excellent defensive outfielder with enough offensive upside to envision him becoming a well-rounded contributor. 

Crow-Armstrong is one of several notable Cubs prospects who could make their presence felt at Wrigley Field before the end of the 2024 campaign. Two other names to keep in mind: right-hander Cade Horton, CBS Sports’ No. 18 prospect, and infielder Matt Shaw, Chicago’s first-round pick last summer who has quickly ascended to being ranked as the minors’ No. 35 prospect.

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