This morning's article by Peter Gammons, Defensive specialist Nick Ahmed primed as Diamondbacks’ starting shortstop, probably came as a surprise to a lot of people, because the general opinion seemed to be that Chris Owings was the man actually ready to take over the spot. His way had been cleared by the trade of Didi Gregorius to the Yankees this winter: with a solid 97 career OPS+ in almost four hundred MLB plate-appearances, and still only aged 23, the road ahead seemed rising to meet him.
Not so far, says Gammons. The article begins innocuously enough. Blah blah "the best defensive shortstop in the National League", according to Chip Hale. Yeah, we know that. Ahmed is a slick fielder to be sure. But the problem has always been his bat: sure, in 2014, he hit over .300 with an OPS just a hair under .800. However, that was in 104 games with Reno, so let me put that into context. Andy Marte played 126 games for the Aces and put up a .919 OPS. Hell, Gregorius played 57 games for them, and an .836 OPS. When Owings was with Reno in 2013, as a 21-year-old [so three years younger than Ahmed], he had an .841 OPS. A .798 OPS isn't that good.
Still, in the middle of the story, Gammons drops the bomb.
This spring, Hale has made it clear the 25-year-old Ahmed is the starting shortstop.
The evidence for this which follows is... Well, less than compelling. "He’s got great hands, great energy, he’s a machine," says Hale. No arguing with that, but it doesn't seem more than an acknowledgement of Ahmed's fielding ability. We do have Tony La Russa telling us, "I think he’s going to hit, too. The ball jumps off his bat better than some people realize." Note that future tense. Oh, and La Russa talking up a Diamondbacks prospect. While it's still likely better than the approach taken by the last regime, this is my unsurprised face. Gammons plows on regardless:
But one thing is clear, which it wasn’t to any college coach other than Jim Penders at UConn. Nick Ahmed is a big league shortstop, the Diamondbacks starting shortstop, "and," says La Russa, "he’s going to be here for a long time."
It doesn't actually seem clear to me either, and nor was it clear to Stewart when the topic was raised at this morning's media briefing.
Also was surprised by a report that said Ahmed is the SS. Said news to him— Zach Buchanan (@azc_zachb) March 23, 2015
Chip Hale was asked about the situation too, and said, "To name him the starter is hard to do, because we still have camp left. I'm not ready to do that. He's been very impressive. [Gammons] was assuming because of the way we were glowing about [Ahmed]." That certainly seems more credible. True, Ahmed has seen a lot more of the playing time at shortstop this spring, but a large factor in that has been the return from an injured shoulder of Owings - a man of whom Gammons appears unaware, going by the complete absence of any CO mention in the piece.
Now, it is possible that, given his late start, Owings may not be deemed 100% ready for Opening Day, and in that case we could well see Ahmed up. [It looks to be the case that he'll be starting, whether here or in Reno, rather than being a backup] But a team which appears to have already punted any significant offensive production from the catcher's position, can probably ill-afford another sub-replacement level hitter in the line-up on an everyday basis. This is a team which will need to score in order to win games, particularly given the question-marks over the starting pitching. Owings' bat seems significantly to outweigh the value of Ahmed's glove.
But it's something to keep an eye on for the next couple of weeks. Perhaps the Opening Day roster might have a few surprises in store for us yet!