Cubs keeping options open for September call-ups when rosters expand

Which prospects will join the Cubs down the stretch?

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Cubs top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong is one of the position players the team is considering calling up in September.

Cubs top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong is one of the position players the team is considering calling up in September.

Caean Couto/AP

DETROIT — The Cubs are a little more than a week away from expanded September rosters and are weighing their options.

Now limited to two extra spots, the added active roster space isn’t as much of a boost as it once was. And teams can only carry up to 14 pitchers in September. So the Cubs are looking at adding one pitcher and one position player. Neither decision is straightforward.

On the position-player side, the possibility of top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong debuting has generated the most hype from the fan base.

“Pete’s really talented,” vice president of player development Jared Banner said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. “And we’re really proud of the way he’s chased his player-plan goals this year.”

Entering Tuesday, Crow-Armstrong was hitting .299 in 16 Triple-A games, and he could make his biggest impact on the major-league team down the stretch as a defensive replacement or speedy pinch runner. But he’s not the only position player in the conversation.

Fellow outfield prospects Alexander Canario and Yonathan Perlaza could provide the threat of power off the bench. Canario has bounced back from shoulder and ankle surgeries over the winter and has an .848 OPS this month. Perlaza is hitting .294 and tied for the team lead with 19 home runs at Triple-A Iowa this season.

The question the Cubs are weighing is, which skill set would be the biggest upgrade for this roster?

On the pitching side, left-handed starter Jordan Wicks has impressed in Triple-A. He has adjusted to the automated ball-strike system since his late-June promotion and has a 2.29 ERA in his last four starts.

“He’s looked good, getting his stuff over, mixing it up,” Banner said. “Has a little bit of power to it, as well, getting some swings and misses.”

If the Cubs needed another starter, Wicks would be at the top of the list. But they’re more likely to call up a reliever, with Hayden Wesneski serving as a backup starter if needed.

“Numbers-wise, we’ve managed that pretty well,” manager David Ross said of the bullpen, which entered Tuesday with the third-fewest innings in the National League. “But I would also put a caveat on that: This run we’ve been on to win a lot of games since the All-Star break, they’ve carried a heavy workload.”

If right-handed prospect Ben Brown were healthy, a September call-up would be an easy decision. The Cubs see him as a starter for the long term, but his fastball-curveball combo could play well out of the bullpen. The Iowa Cubs put him on the injured list three weeks ago with a left lat/oblique issue, and Banner said Monday that Brown was playing catch at the Cubs’ Arizona complex but had yet to throw off a mound.

With Brown out of the equation, bringing up a left-hander is an intriguing option. Luke Little, Brendon Little and Anthony Kay have put themselves in the conversation. Lefty Richard Bleier, whom the Cubs signed after the Red Sox released him this month, is another option.

As far as right-handers go, Keegan Thompson has improved his high walk rate in the last month. On rehab assignments in Triple-A, Brad Boxberger (strained right forearm) and Nick Burdi (appendectomy) aren’t on the cusp of returning from the 60-day injured list, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be in a couple of weeks.

The Cubs have two spots open on the 40-man roster, so that won’t be a limiting factor in September.

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