Unlike in some recent years, there is really only one starting spot up for grabs as we head into the spring. While I might disagree with some of the bench in Jim's post on the probable opening day roster, I don't really think there's much argument as to who the first choice players are at any of the positions.
But shortstop is far from settled. The presumed starter there is, of course, Nick Ahmed. He's the longest tenured Diamondback and the final remnant of the Justin Upton trade, which, hard as it is to believe it, took place over a decade ago. Through rose-colored glasses, his credentials are top-notch; he has two gold gloves and has been a serviceable bat against left handed pitching, batting a whopping 33% better against lefties than overall. Unfortunately, as we know, he's been the presumed first-choice shortstop the last two seasons, and we've seen Josh Rojas and Geraldo Perdomo get the opening day start due to injury. Ahmed was limited to just 54 plate appearances last season. So there is a mixture of non-roster invitees and other rostered players who might have a chance to earn the job if Ahmed's health doesn't allow it. Following is a ranking of the candidates ordered by my presumed guess at who the opening day starter might be.
#1 Nick Ahmed
I've said enough about Ahmed's credentials above, but with the opposing pitcher on opening day likely being left handed, his chances of getting the start are good even if the Diamondbacks opt for a shortstop platoon. Clayton Kershaw and Julio Urias seem the most likely candidates to start on March 30th for the Dodgers. Barring health issues, Ahmed is 95% going to be the opening day starter. I think it much less likely that he finishes the season having the most starts at shortstop, since there will be other players pushing for playing time and if he plays well and stays healthy, he's a definite trade candidate. However things work out, we will be saying goodbye to Ahmed this year, as the team has to focus on building for 2025 and 2026, when they should be legitimate contenders and Ahmed will most likely be retired.
#2 Diego Castillo
One might have expected Gerardo Perdomo to be second on this list, and he is the superior defender to Castillo. Castillo is a contender for a roster spot as a super utility player, having seen action at all four infield spots and right field last year for the Pirates. But the bigger thing is the platoon splits. Castillo posted a .788 OPS in 153 plate appearances against left handed pitching last year. He hit well in winter ball. He's basically a poor man's Nick Ahmed, in that he's even worse against right handed pitching and the inferior defender, but their numbers against left handed pitching are nearly identical (obviously, Castillo has a much smaller sample size, but 153 plate appearances is about the same number that Ahmed got in his last full season.) If Ahmed needs a couple extra weeks, starting the season with a platoon of Castillo and Perdomo would be a reasonable move, and against left handed pitching, Castillo should get the start, as he can at least hit lefties and Perdomo hasn't shown the capacity to hit anyone.
#3 Geraldo Perdomo
Perdomo no longer qualifies for prospect lists, but even if he did, you have to imagine he'd no longer be on any top-100 lists like he was as recently as last year. Everything about his game feels like it should be better; he doesn't register as well on defensive metrics as he should, he doesn't hit from either side of the plate, and he looks like wasted potential. Worse, he actually performed well with the bat during his cup of coffee in 2021, only to crater in 2022. That said, he is just 23. Unfortunately, he didn't see much action in winter leagues. He was good in his limited action, but...
Still, he's 23. He's not the future at shortstop unless things dramatically change, but he can be the present if things improve enough. Given the nature of his game, he could also benefit from the rule changes, so if he's having a great spring, he could take control of the job even if Ahmed is healthy. There's an additional chance for him to get the opening day start if Ketel Marte isn't healthy and Ahmed is, since under those circumstances Ahmed could start at second base given the premium placed on middle infield defense by the rule changes.
#4 Blaze Alexander
Blaze is the final player in this preview on the 40 man roster and the first with the chance to actually rise up and claim the job not just for a day, but to be the potential future for the next couple of years. I put the chances of that actually happening at less than 1%, but that's not nothing. Based on the numbers, his bat is far superior to everyone above him on the list. True, that could simply be the effect of playing in two of the most hitter friendly minor league parks last year, but he earned his 40 man roster spot. He's never been a particularly highly regarded prospect; he ranks just 14th on MLB.com's list of Diamondbacks prospects, and he didn't sniff a top-100 list. He was just an 11th round draft choice. But perhaps he is like the Diamondbacks' most successful 11th round choice, Dan Uggla in 2001, who was lost via the Rule 5 draft and went on to post over 18 WAR and appear get three All Star selections.
Whether he gets the opening day job or not, he'll likely appear for the Diamondbacks at some point this year, given the generally putrid offensive state of the other options. When he does, he'll be just the third Diamondbacks 11th round pick to make the majors, joining Uggla and Mike Freeman.
#5 Jordan Lawlar
First, a note of explanation. While Yairo Munoz is the other non-roster invitee to see time at shortstop during his career, he has a total of 22 games there since 2019. Thus, I would consider Ketel Marte or Josh Rojas to be more likely to start the season at shortstop than Munoz, although I sincerely hope that doesn't happen.
Lawlar is the future at shortstop. I don't think anyone denies that. He's a consensus top-50 prospect (top-25 on most lists) who has hit at every stop, including the Arizona Fall League last year. He's a cornerstone the team is going to build around, hopefully towards a championship in 2025 or 2026.
That said, if he winds up the opening day shortstop, something has gone very, very wrong. He's just 20, and 20 year olds don't generally find themselves in the major leagues. His bat may be ready, but I'm not sure that his glove is. He was the top player on the board of several teams in the 2021 draft, but there's a big adjustment between high school and the major leagues, and not a lot of players can make the jump that quickly.
However, Lawlar could well be entrenched at shortstop by the end of the year. This year is a big year for figuring things out for the top prospects, and if he has nothing else to prove at Reno and Alexander or Perdomo haven't seized the job, why not bring the kid up and see what he can do? But he's not going to break camp with the team unless he has earned the starting shortstop job in spring training, and I'm not sure he'll be given that chance unless there's a Springfield Mystery Spot-type incident involving a couple of the players ahead of him on the depth chart. He won't be brought up unless it's to play every day, so even if he is the best of the players in the spring, we'll see some combination of lesser players at short until he's answered all remaining questions at the minor league level.