May 28, 2024

PCA is a well-worn acronym, standing for everything from the People’s Choice Awards to the Positive Coaching Alliance to the Poodle Club of America.

In Chicago it’s about to become shorthand for Pete Crow-Armstrong, who was promoted by the Cubs when they cleared a spot on their 40-man roster Monday and the fleet center fielder known as PCA arrived at Coors Field, where the Cubs began a three-game series.

He debuted as a pinch-runner in the seventh inning and was thrown out trying to steal third. He remained in the game playing center field and batted once, laying down a sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning of the Cubs’ 5-4 victory.

“I feel like I just got my moment to breathe,” Crow-Armstrong told reporters before the game. “Getting into the clubhouse was a little much, but everybody just was the most welcoming. Yeah, it was a nice scene when I walked in.”

He is well-known in Southern California, where he grew up in Sherman Oaks and starred at Harvard-Westlake High in Studio City.

Crow-Armstrong, 21, turned down a scholarship to Vanderbilt to sign with the New York Mets after being drafted No. 17 overall in 2020. He was dealt to the Cubs for two months for infielder Javier Báez at the trade deadline a year later, a deal that backfired spectacularly for the Mets, who lost 11 of their first 14 games with Báez in the lineup and didn’t come close to making the playoffs.

Crow-Armstrong promptly ascended through the Cubs’ farm system with the same breathtaking speed he exhibits in the outfield and on the basepaths. He earned the promotion by hitting 20 home runs, stealing 37 bases and batting .283 with a .876 one-base-plus-slugging percentage at double-A and triple-A this season.

Chicago Cubs' Pete Crow-Armstrong jogs back to the dugout during the first inning of the All-Star Futures baseball game.

Pete Crow-Armstrong is the Cubs’ top prospect and ranked No. 12 overall in baseball by MLB.com and Baseball America. The center fielder bats and throws left-handed.

(Caean Couto / Associated Press)

Never mind that former Dodger Cody Bellinger has enjoyed a comeback-player-of-the-year campaign with the Cubs. Lately Bellinger has played more first base than center field. PCA is essentially competing with Mike Tauchman, a 32-year-old journeyman center fielder batting .167 with a dismal .485 OPS in his last 96 plate appearances.

As for the future? Bellinger is on a one-year $17.5-million deal after being non-tendered by the Dodgers. Yes, there’s a mutual option for 2024, but Bellinger most assuredly will decline it and jump into the free-agent market after resurrecting his career.

Crow-Armstrong, who bats and throws left-handed, will get every chance at manning center field at Wrigley Field on a daily basis while under team control through 2029. He’ll also likely bat leadoff.

“We think Pete’s really mature and he’s an amazing competitor,” Jared Banner, Cubs vice president of player development, said recently. “He shows up every day looking to work and get better. And he’s shown the ability to adjust and respond to adversity when it comes. So, he’s in a really good spot.”

He’s that highly regarded, ranked as the No. 12 prospect in baseball by MLB.com and Baseball America, and the No. 1 Cubs prospect. The universal five-tool grading scale used by scouts goes from 20 to 80, and almost no one is awarded the top end. Crow-Armstrong’s prowess in center field does, indeed, grade as an 80.

“I’m not sure what exact grade I would put on him, but he’s certainly a premium defender,” Banner said.

And he’s never lacked confidence, telling The Times’ Eric Sondheimer shortly after COVID shut down high school sports in 2020 that in 10 years, “I definitely see myself in the big leagues…. I see myself having a couple Gold Gloves and impacting an organization some sort of way.”

The Crow in his mouthful of a surname comes from his mom, Ashley Crow, an actor who among her credits in 1994 played Billy Heywood’s mom, Jenny, in “Little Big League.”

The Armstrong comes from his father, Matthew John Armstrong, also an actor who has dozens of television credits. Crow-Armstrong’s dad also might be the source of his athleticism, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the DuPage Valley Conference for the Naperville (Ill.) Central High football team.

Crow-Armstrong is the latest in a spate of position players from Southern California drafted in the first round who have ascended to the big leagues.

Royce Lewis, the first overall pick in 2017 by the Minnesota Twins out of JSerra High, has overcome two knee surgeries and is the everyday third baseman for the AL Central Division leaders. Lewis is batting .314 with 11 home runs in 185 at-bats after an oblique strain kept him on the injured list until May 29.

Outfielder Blake Rutherford, the 18th overall pick in 2016 by the New York Yankees out of Chaminade High, broke in with the Washington Nationals in August and was sent back to the minors after batting .182 in 33 at-bats.

First baseman Nick Pratto, the 14th overall pick in 2017 by the Kansas City Royals out of Huntington Beach High, made his big league debut last season and is getting a fair shot at playing every day this year while batting .235 with seven homers in 302 plate appearances.

Garrett Mitchell, the 20th overall pick in 2020 by the Milwaukee Brewers out of UCLA, became the everyday center fielder the last five weeks of the 2022 season and was the starter this year until a separated shoulder April 18 ended his season.

Drew Bowser, left, and Pete Crow-Armstrong stand next to each other during a photo

Drew Bowser, left, and Pete Crow-Armstrong have known each other since they were 7 years old. They became teammates at Studio City Harvard-Westlake in 2016.

(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

But the contemporary Crow-Armstrong is most excited about Drew Bowser, a corner infielder drafted this summer by the Cubs in the 20th round out of Stanford.

Why? Bowser is one of his closest friends. They were teammates at Harvard-Westlake and first met at age 7 when Bowser, playing for Encino Little League, homered off the left-hander from Sherman Oaks who gave up pitching soon thereafter.

Bowser, like Crow-Armstrong, has family roots in the entertainment industry. His mother, Yvette Lee Bowser, is a successful television producer who in the 1990s wrote and produced “Living Single,” becoming the first Black woman to develop her own prime-time series.

But hand it to Crow-Armstrong for producing an image that had a heartfelt impact. Four years ago to honor Bowser on his birthday, Crow-Armstrong posted on social media a photo of Bowser’s home run off him at age 7.

“I gave him a shout out,” he told Sondheimer.

The Cubs front office had targeted this particular series for his debut for several weeks, reasoning that Crow-Armstrong patrolling the huge outfield at Coors Field could benefit the visiting team.

“He earned the callup,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “We’ve got a group of guys that have gotten us here, but he could definitely help us out.”

The Cubs are battling for the NL Central title or a wild-card berth. Even though he didn’t join the 40-man roster until after the Sept. 1 cutoff date for playoff eligibility, he could qualify if he replaces an injured player. But first things first. After going seven for 10 in his last two games at triple-A, he made his Cubs debut and is sure to be afforded additional opportunities during the stretch run.

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