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2019 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews: #3, Nick Ahmed

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It seems the plucky shortstop from the University of Connecticut has finally silenced his doubters.

St Louis Cardinals v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Rating: 8.58

Age: 29

2019 Stats: .254/.316/.437, 19 HR, 93 OPS+/92 wRC+, 4.5 bWAR/2.4fWAR

2019 Salary: $3,663,000

2020 Salary: Arb 3 (est. $7,000,000)


Introduction

Selected by the Atlanta Braves in the second round (85th overall) of the 2011 MLB June draft, Nick Ahmed is the final man standing (from either team) from one of the bigger trades in Arizona Diamondbacks history. Ahmed joined the Diamondbacks organization in January of 2013 along with Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill and Brandon Drury in exchange for all-star right fielder Justin Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson. At the time of the trade, there were debates within the Braves community about who the best defensive shortstop in the system was. Many chalked that up to the Braves simply hyping up prospects they were sending to Arizona, overvaluing a prospect as is natural for fans and even evaluators. After all, the Braves’ MLB shortstop at that time was wonder-glove Andrelton Simmons. Simmons was flashing leather at short in a way not seen in over 15 years. Surely, Ahmed wasn’t that good - was he?

After the trade, Ahmed was promptly placed in AA ball, where he played for former Diamondback infielder Andy Green.

“I played a long time. I haven’t seen a better defensive shortstop. I’ve managed and played, been in the big leagues. From what I’ve seen in two months, I’ve never seen a guy save runs day after day after day like that.” - Andy Green on Nick Ahmed

Despite his bat still lacking the sort of production usually expected out of a Major LEague player, Nick Ahmed made his MLB debut on June 29, 2014 - only two years and a few weeks after being drafted. Ahmed only played in 25 games for the Snakes that season. He still posted 0.3 dWAR. By comparison, the full-time shortstop for the team, Didi Gregorius, a solid fielder himself, posted 0.6 dWAR for the season. There were no highlight reel plays by Ahmed to wow fans and players, but something had changed in the space between second and third.

In 2015, Ahmed arrived in Spring Training, competing for the starting nod at shortstop. Despite his lack of stick, he won the job and spent the entire season as the team’s primary option at the position. His bat was anemic, but his glove was something special. The jumps he got on balls up the middle turned groundball singles into outs with regularity. Playing a full season at the position also provided him the opportunity to show off what is perhaps his strongest defense asset, his glove to throw transfer. Ahmed’s lightning-fast transfer speed amazed fans and players alike. Sadly, the Arizona offense was not good that season. Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings were a big part of that deficiency. Despite his amazing glove skills, plenty of critics were calling for Ahmed to be benched and for the team to find a better option to play short.

2016 saw the arrival of Jean Segura. Once again, Ahmed had to fight for his position as the team’s starter at short. Though he did manage to secure the position, injuries cut short his 2016. The arrival of Ketel Marte and more injury concerns also derailed Ahmed’s 2017. Despite his defensive prowess, it appeared to many that Ahmed’s improbable run was nearing an end. Injuries to his back and hip, surgery to correct issues, and the arrival of better-hitting talent all seemed to spell out the end of Ahmed’s time as a starter, making him either trade bait or a late-inning defensive replacement sort of bench player.

Nick Ahmed wasn’t done though. 2018 saw Ahmed once again secure the team’s starting nod for shortstop, moving Ketel Marte to second. Ahmed then proceeded to make a name for himself with the bat versus left-handed pitching. It was nothing spectacular, but it was hitting well above what the expected performance out of a shortstop was. Against right-handed pitching, he still struggled. But, this overall improvement began to quiet doubters. It also, along with a full, healthy season, allowed Ahmed to show off his defensive skills for the entire season, resulting Ahmed securing his first Gold Glove - a surprise to some from outside the desert. Though some still longed for a platoon partner for Ahmed, his overall body of work made it difficult to find the right time to bench him for a better bat. Ahmed entered the 2018-19 offseason looking to improve upon his offensive “breakout” season.

2019 Review

For once, the only threat to Nick Ahmed opening the season as Arizona’s primary shortstop was the fact that Ahmed reportedly garnered a decent amount of trade interest in the 2018-19 offseason. As Arizona elected not to trade him, Ahmed showed up to training camp in the unusual (for him) position of having the starting nod all wrapped up. All he needed to focus on was preparing himself for the season. Ahmed’s dedication to his craft paid off in spades. For all the improvements he made in 2018, Ahmed was even better in 2019, including quietly leading the league in sacrifice flies with 12 to go with his 19 big flies, including this no-doubter for his first of the season.

Of course, the reason for Ahmed being on the field was his glove, not his bat. I briefly considered making this 2019 review article a video review, splicing together a three-minute review of Ahmed as an Ahmed-specific episode of Web Gems, but decided that might be a bit much. Ahmed wasted no time flashing the leather in 2019, robbing the evil Dodgers of a hit before the calendar had even turned to April.

Shift or not, he started the play “in position” and finished the play nearly ten feet to the right of second base in order to rob Joc Pederson there.

This season’s Snake Pit Defensive Plays of the Year could have simply been a long list of Nick Ahmed plays. Even splitting the categories into right and left infield wound up with Ahmed making appearances on plays for the right side.

Making plays like this is how a player dominates the defensive highlights.

Even when shifted to the right of second base, he still made plays back in shortstop territory.

Going full Superman to make a play became something of a trademark move for Ahmed in 2019, resulting in plays like this one, a defensive play of the year candidate.

Unlike some shortstops who have amazing range to one direction or the other, Ahmed seems to have it in all three directions; right, left, and even climbing the ladder (sorry, not sorry Will Smith)

Ahmed enjoyed torturing the evil Dodgers in 2019, using ballet-like plays to rob their potent hitters of hits.

Ahmed’s 2019 wasn’t defined by just being a wizard with the glove. He found yet another gear offensively, improving on his 2018 adjustments. That included this bit of timely hitting, another no-doubter that gave Nick four of his five steaks on the day in one swing.

In the middle of August, Nick Ahmed’s offensive improvements were put on full display. From August 11-17, Ahmed batted .407, going 11-for-27, with five home runs and 13 RBI. He posted an OPS 1.540. This was enough to earn Nick Ahmed the award for NL Player of the Week.

Ahmed’s season ended less spectacularly. In September, Ahmed batted only .209, including going 1-for-16 in his final four games. Still, despite this slump, Ahmed finished the season in total with a batting line that was about average for the defense-first position. Ahmed closed out the season with an astounding 18 defensive runs saved above average. This time, to no one’s surprise, Ahmed secured his second Gold Glove Award. Additionally, Nick Ahmed ended Andrelton Simmons’ amazing six-year run as the winner of the Fielding Bible Award at shortstop.

2020 Preview

Nick Ahmed is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility. There have been numerous reports that the team has internally been discussing an extension for Nick Ahmed. However, the substance of those conversations is unknown. We do know that Ahmed has been outspoken about players taking deals below their market value. This would seem to indicate that the team is going to have bring a strong offer if they are going to convince their human highlight reel to forego free agency for a bit longer. Regardless of how the extension talks go, Ahmed will be in a Diamondbacks uniform in 2020. At the estimated $7,000,000 he is expected to bring home, Ahmed is still a bargain, even if his bat cools off some. With the kind of glove that can make him a 2-win player without hitting a lick, the only concern facing the Diamondbacks facing the shortstop position is the lack of MLB-ready depth behind Ahmed. Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar (who played short for the Twins for a few years) are the best replacements should something happen to Ahmed. The rest of Arizona’s options are significant downgrades, both with the glove and the bat.

While Ahmed is probably not the face of the franchise, he has become the veteran leader for this young, developing Diamondbacks team. His defensive excellence has given a major boost in confidence to pitchers allowing contact and his dedication to improve at the plate is an example for others around him of what can come of “putting in the work”. He is a fan favorite for many and will continue to be so in 2020, a season which hopefully sees him sign an extension to give the Diamondbacks another three years or so of amazing defensive play up the middle.