The Diamondbacks boasted quite a few solid players at the shortstop position over the decade. Three of the players on this list were acquired in trades, which includes All-Stars, Gold Glove winners, and World Series champions. Let’s take a look at the candidates:
Stephen Drew (262 games played; 2010-12)
The Diamondbacks opened up the decade with Drew as their incumbent shortstop, holding the position since the middle of the 2006 season. Drew had his ups and downs, but opened up the decade with a strong season. In 151 games Drew hit a solid .278/.352/.458 (113 wRC+) with excellent shortstop defense (8 DRS) to put together a 4.0 bWAR/4.8 fWAR season. It looked like this would be the new normal as Drew was 27 and appeared to be finally settling in as the player we all imagined him to be: a well-rounded shortstop who was above average at the plate and in the field to build around.
The next two seasons weren’t as kind. Drew started the 2011 season on the DL with nagging injuries before returning in Mid April. Drew’s offense took a major step backward on the season, but was still putting up above-average regular value due to his still excellent glovework. Not too long after the All-Star Break that season, Drew would be involved in a nasty collision at home plate that would result in a broken ankle. The image of his foot 180 degrees rotated still haunts my mind since I was at that game watching from the First Baseline seats.
Drew would not play another game with the Dbacks until 11 months later, although drew ire from owner Ken Kendrick about his rehab processing being apparently too slow. In 2012, his offense cratered and the injury also robbed his athleticism and range at the shortstop position. Drew was unceremoniously dumped to the Oakland Athletics at the 2012 Trade Deadline for minor league filler. Drew’s career had somewhat a happy ending as he helped the Boston Red Sox win the World Series a year later. I still believe that Drew belonged on the 20th Anniversary Team over Tony Womack when all is said and done.
Didi Gregorius (170 games played; 2013-14)
Not too long after Drew left the organization, GM Kevin Towers was able to find a replacement. The team acquired Gregorius from the Reds in a 3-team deal that also sent Trevor Bauer and Bryan Shaw to Cleveland. At the time, Gregorius had just reached the majors with Cincinnati with 21 PA there. After opening up the season in Reno, the team decided to give him a look at the SS when Cliff Pennington and John McDonald wasn’t good enough offensively. Gregorius in 100 games would put up a 94 OPS+ and made some ridiculous plays albeit with a somewhat inconsistent glove. Unfortunately, Gregorius didn’t have much of an opportunity to lock down the SS position long term due to pressure from the system from two players listed down below.
Gregorius would lose the SS battle to Chris Owings after the latter had a promising debut month and a strong spring. The team also had a rising prospect in Nick Ahmed, who won the Minor League Gold Glove at SS and considered a superior defensive talent to Gregorius. A shoulder injury suffered by Owings in a home plate collision would put him on the DL for 3 months and Gregorius would end up filling in there for the rest of the season. The team would send Gregorius to the Yankees in a deal that included Robbie Ray and Domingo Leyba, both of whom played for the Dbacks in 2019. Gregorius would replace future HOFer Derek Jeter, which is ironic given Towers’ comments when acquiring him two years prior.
Chris Owings (233 games played; 2013-18)
Owings originally was a sandwich round pick by the Diamondbacks in 2009 (thank you Tigers for overpaying Brandon Lyon). Owings was a short, slim middle infielder prospect who was more projection than skill set when drafted but he managed to fly up the system and debut four seasons later. After a PCL MVP season in 2013, Owings would win the shortstop job over Didi Gregorius the following Spring and actually got off to a hot start at the plate. It was good enough to convince me to buy a jersey of him over A.J. Pollock, but it appeared Owings was the shortstop of the future. Unfortunately a home plate collision would result in a devastating shoulder injury that would put Owings out of commission for 3 months and affected him the next season as well.
When Ahmed emerged as the starting shortstop to open 2015, Owings was moved across to 2B. That position was considered his likely destination point from the pre-draft reports, although the idea was he was going to be a great defender there and be a solid bat. It did not go well as mentioned before the injury suffered the previous year really affected his swing. Owings would return in 2016 healthy, but was pressed into CF duty when Pollock broke his elbow sliding at home plate (the third injury where a play at home resulted in a devastating injury). Owings did what he could, but the lack of experience at the position showed up and while his bat improved to an 88 OPS+ so Owings kept his roster spot alive for 2017.
Owings appeared to have figured it out in 2017 as well, showing increased power and exit velocities in his Age 25 season. It’s not all that uncommon for production to go up at that age, but the lack of walks would limit Owings to a 85 OPS+ despite career highs in doubles and home runs. He would break his finger late July attempting to bunt for a hit against Lance Lynn and would not return for the season. He would return for one more season as a multi-positional bench player, but his offense completely cratered in 2018 and was non-tendered after the season. Owings was a player who brought a lot of exciting tools to the game, but could never figure out how to get on base enough to make use of them.
Nick Ahmed (589 games played; 2014-present)
Raise your hand if you thought the best player from the Justin Upton trade would be Nick Ahmed. Now put your hand down because you’re obviously lying. Jokes aside, Ahmed came up as a very athletic and twitchy defender who didn’t have much of a bat. If you visit the Snake Pit posts from the 2015 season, the topic of Ahmed was that his bat would develop enough to not completely steal from the value his glove brought the team. Ahmed would win the shortstop job every year, although had to battle for it every year from 2015 to 2018. His first primary challenger was Chris Owings, then later Ketel Marte.
Ahmed opened up the 2015 season with a very pedestrian .226/.275/.359 line (69 OPS+), but 19 DRS kept his total contributions above 2.0 bWAR. Ahmed would battle hip problems for much of 2016 that resulted in his second surgery to fix. That was a major point of concern since Ahmed’s value was from his glove and any reduction in range would make him unplayable. At the same time, Ahmed struggled badly against right-handed pitchers to the point where the team decided to share the SS position with him and Owings. Like Owings, Ahmed would suffer a broken hand getting hit by a pitch in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals’ closer Trevor Rosenthal that June. Ahmed would go through the rehab process and just 1-2 days away from being activated from the DL would break a finger on the same hand against the Cardinals’ AAA affiliate. It would be the third major injury for Ahmed since his 2016 season ended prematurely.
Fortunately that would be rock bottom for his career to date. Ahmed would work hard to turn himself into a respectable batter. Ahmed would win the shortstop job for good in 2018 and post career highs across the board in his first healthy season in 3 years. He set a career high in XBH (54) and OPS (.700), which allowed him to stay in the lineup enough to play his glove. Ahmed would win a gold glove for his efforts, perhaps the greatest season by a shortstop in team history defensively as Ahmed put up 21 DRS. Ahmed clearly wasn’t done improving, as he made even more strides offensively in 2019. He improved his strikeout and walk rates as well as driving in 82 runs and actually being in the green offensively when accounting for baserunning. Ahmed would win his second Gold Glove despite strong competition from Javier Baez and Trevor Story. His 2019 season would be right up there with Drew’s 2010 season in terms of value, putting up 4.5 bWAR. The team controls Ahmed for one more season before he’s scheduled to reach free agency.
Ketel Marte (103 games played; 2017-present)
Note: Originally I wasn’t going to include Marte in this ballot due to only having half a year of starts in 2017 and no regular playing time since, but the other options to get to five players were Willie Bloomquist, John McDonald, and Cliff Pennington.
Marte was initially acquired along with Taijuan Walker after the 2016 season, as part of Mike Hazen’s first big trade as the GM. Walker was considered the main get as a former elite pitching prospect who never established himself in Seattle with Marte as a throw in. Marte was another high-ceiling prospect who hadn’t quite reached expectations in Seattle as their former top prospect once Walker graduated. Walker was able to establish himself as a viable mid-rotation arm in 2017 while Marte would open the season with AAA Reno due to the Mariners rushing him to the majors. Marte came to Arizona as a scrawny 6’1” 165 dude and has since added 40 pounds of muscle over 4 years and has developed into a player better than we expected him to be at the time of the trade.
However, the team was suffering from the Shortstop Apocalypse of 2017 and needed someone to take over for the season. Marte was initially called up when Ahmed went down that year and would end up taking over at the position for good when Owings went down the next month. Marte was good enough for the Diamondbacks to stay afloat, hitting .260/.345/.395 (88 OPS+) with decent glove work to put together about what would prorate to 2.5 WAR over a full season’s worth of plate appearances. Marte would break out on the big stage, collecting three big hits including triples from each side of the plate in the Wild Card game. That prompted the front office to lock up Marte long term to a 5/$24MM deal that should easily turn into 7/$46MM deal with club options that are likely to be exercised.
Since signing that deal, Marte has blossomed into one of the game’s best players and the face of the franchise albeit playing mostly 2B and CF these days due to Nick Ahmed’s presence. Marte appeared in 24 games at the shortstop position in 2018 and 11 last season, although he’ll be spending more time in CF given how the roster is currently constructed.
Who is your pick for the Diamondbacks’ Shortstop of the decade?
This poll is closed