SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Nick Ahmed is in a battle for the Arizona Diamondbacks starting shortstop position come Opening Day. Between Ahmed and Chris Owings, manager Chip Hale views the latter as the complete package as a fielder and hitter.
Ahmed wants to change that. Through Monday, he has turned heads with his bat, as well as with his glove, hitting .324 in 12 games.
“His bat and strength has been much improved,” Hale said. “From what we’ve heard from our minor league group he’s done well. I’ve seen exactly what they’ve told us. He’s just putting the ball in play.”
While in Reno last season, Ahmed attributed hitting coach Greg Gross for helping him free up his swing and hit a career high .312.
Just a year prior, he struggled in his first two months with Double-A Mobile, batting .236.
“It was just the whole process,” Ahmed said. “I didn’t perform anywhere near my capabilities.”
But he accepted the struggle. He leaned on his faith and family to get him through it and learned to trust his preparation as a hitter.
“I showed up to the park and was doing something different each and every day,” he said.
During Spring Training, he likes to sit in on hitters meetings and listen to others share thoughts and opinions. He also watches others bat and picks their brains.
“So I don’t really learn from one guy,” he said. “There’s all this experience and knowledge here.”
The infielder spent four years in the Minor Leagues before the Diamondbacks brought him up from Reno last June.
“The clubhouse in Triple-A asked me, ‘Hey, would you care if you wore No. 13 up in the big leagues?'” Ahmed said.
His response: “I don’t care what number I wear as long as I’m in the big leagues.”
The number has stuck with him since. And now he has an opportunity to contribute to Major League team.
But whether he or Owings starts, Ahmed said it won’t change their friendship. Despite the position battle, the two work together and maintain a good relationship.
“We just both like to compete, have fun, throw it all out there,” Ahmed said. “We try to bounce things off each other on both sides of the plate.”
With the Diamondbacks, Ahmed has found an appreciation for Hale’s control of the team environment with his open dialogue. Experience trickles down from the top to the players.
While Hale sees Owings as the more complete shortstop, there’s still time for Ahmed to further impress his manager before April 6.
“He’s already proven to us he’s an everyday starter,” Hale said. “It is Spring Training, so sometimes we have to be careful with what guys are doing now. We’ve got to look at what they’ve done over their career.”
Should Ahmed nab that starting spot, he’ll be as ready as he can be. But he knows his game is far from a finished product. He said it’s something he can always work and improve on.
“The day I stop getting better and stop improving will probably be my last day in baseball.”