SCOTTSDALE – Since organized games began, players always contemplated their utility. Some walk away with fuel left in the tank and others tend to embarrass themselves with useless longevity.
The dilemma occurs when a player, who may be past useful production, believes there remains talent and thus pushes forward.
Such could be the case of shortstop Nick Ahmed of the Arizona Diamondbacks. A two-time Gold Glove recipient (2018, 2019), Ahmed is currently at the crossroads of a career marked by elite defensive skills. Injuries now have clouded his future, but Ahmed, and Arizona decision-makers, maintain his days in a major league uniform are not numbered.
A marginal .254 career hitter in 816 major league games, Ahmed is attempting to recover from surgery last summer and that continues to shut him down. Coming into spring training, the native of Longmeadow, Mass. believed he was in the right to recover from a surgical procedure to repair a labrum tear and bone spurs in his right shoulder.
During the opening week of drills at the Diamondbacks’ Salt River training facility, Ahmed suffered another setback. This was inflammation in his left wrist. As he picked up a bat and started batting practice, pain increased, and, in a measure of caution, the Diamondbacks shut him down.
In the Salt River clubhouse recently, Ahmed assured reporters the setback is minor and expects to participate in competitive spring training games in the near future.
“It was probably smart for me to say something this early in camp,” he said. “Had the wrist looked at by the medical staff and they didn’t think it was anything serious. It’s not long-term, but they just wanted me to slow down.”
Injuries seem to follow Ahmed like a bad dream, and he continues to respond.
“It’s not ideal,” he added. “It’s part of the game. And you do what you can to stay healthy. You put in all the work you can but sometimes these things happen and pop up. You try and learn the best you can, rehab it and get it strong.”
While a debate can begin whether Ahmed, who will be 33-years-old on March 15, is at a critical part of a career which national awards, the end may not be close. Field manager Torey Lovullo penciled Ahmed as the Arizona starting shortstop for 2023 but admitted that he is keenly aware of the critical issue of depth.
With Ahmed out with that shoulder issue last season, Lovullo turned to 23-year-old Geraldo Perdomo to occupy shortstop. Perdomo responded with a .195 (84-for-431) batting average and 14 errors in 512 chances (.973 fielding percentage). In Ahmed’s Gold Glove season of 2019, for example, he committed 13 errors in 632 changes and a .978 fielding percentage.
Give the industry and commitment Ahmed demonstrated in his off-season rehabilitation, Lovullo told reporters this a minor hindrance.
“Crossroads is a little aggressive of me,” Lovullo said. “Nick is an easy bet to get healthy and find his way back between the white lines. He is a great evaluator of himself and he’s a little banged up, right now. With Nick right now, it’s about rest.”
Given a potential gap in the infield, the Diamondbacks could entertain a few options.
The main scenario is bringing along shortstop Jordan Lawler, the club’s number one pick (6th overall) in the 2021 draft. Given the methodology behind general manager Mike Hazen’s approach, Lovullo will likely stay with Ahmed, who is a free agent after the current season, and Perdomo until late in the season.
That’s when the Diamondbacks could recall Lawler from the minors and insert the Dallas native in the lineup for the final games of the season. The key point is to make sure Lawler does not exceed his rookie eligibility for the 2024 season.
Should the Diamondbacks recall Lawler late in the season, he must be on the major league roster for 45 days or less and have no more than 130 at-bats.
Consider how the Diamondbacks handled outfielder Corbin Carroll. Now, Carroll is regarded as a prime candidate for National League rookie-of-the-year for the current campaign. In 2022, Carroll appeared in 32 games and had 104 at-bats. That easily falls under the rookie criteria for 2023.
Lawler could likely be used in a similar manner.
In 2022, Lawler smoked a .351 batting average for low-A Visalia, hit.282 for advanced A Hillsboro and then .212 at AA Amarillo. All of which portends a waiting game for the future at the shortstop position in the desert.