Nick Ahmed would not have changed a thing. Preparing for the start of the pandemic-shortened season three summers ago, he dived for a ball during a meaningless exhibition that July. In the process, he jammed his shoulder, an injury, it turned out, that altered his career.
“I don’t regret diving for that ball at summer camp,” Ahmed said. “It’s how I’ve always played the game and how I’ll always continue to play the game.”
Ahmed was speaking to reporters on Wednesday in a deserted Diamondbacks clubhouse at Chase Field. An hour earlier, he had been told he was being designated for assignment, effectively ending his time with the organization.
Ahmed’s eyes were red from tears. He did not seem like he was finished crying.
“It’s just the hard part of our game,” Ahmed, 33, said. “Just 10 years and ripping a band-aid off in 10 minutes.”
No player in club history played in more seasons with the Diamondbacks than Ahmed, who reached the 10-year mark this year. His tenure was a testament to perseverance, and, of course, to the defensive excellence that always has defined him.
When the Diamondbacks acquired him from the Atlanta Braves as part of the Justin Upton trade in January 2013, Ahmed was seen as a likely utility infielder. Few scouts believed he would ever hit enough to be anything more.
But, prior to this year, Ahmed, when healthy, would hold down the shortstop position year in and year out. In the process, he outlasted one player after another.
Consider the names of shortstops the organization had at its disposal during the past decade: Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings, Dansby Swanson, Jean Segura, Jazz Chisholm Jr. All either were traded or found new positions, at least in part due to Ahmed’s presence.
His defense was never a question. A two-time Gold Glove winner, Ahmed at his best was a dependable, rangy shortstop with a strong and accurate arm. He had a way of making difficult plays look routine and of impacting games in less obvious ways, like by delivering a perfect relay throw to home plate.
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That he wound up hitting enough to hold down shortstop fits perfectly with his origin story: Coming out of high school, he had only one Division I school — Connecticut — offer him a scholarship with a chance to play shortstop. Not only were there questions about his bat, but Ahmed could reach the low-90s with his fastball, leading to interest in him as a pitcher.
But Ahmed hit enough in college to become a second-round pick of the Braves, then he hit enough in the minors to earn a big-league opportunity. He debuted on June 29, 2014.
And for a multi-year stretch in the majors, Ahmed made annual gains at the plate. Across 2018 and 2019, he hit a combined .244/.303/.424, averaging 33 doubles, six triples and 18 homers a year. He was worth 4.2 WAR per year, according to Baseball-Reference.
His manager and coaches routinely noted how often the teams he played for tended to overperform. They bestowed him with a label that, for them, was the highest praise they could deliver: Ahmed, they said, was a winning player.
Then he hurt his shoulder. For each of the next three years, Ahmed tried to play through it before finally undergoing major surgery midway through last year. He has not been the same since, his arm strength down and his offensive production lacking.
The Diamondbacks on Wednesday decided to move on, opting instead to call up top prospect Jordan Lawlar. Manager Torey Lovullo described the postgame conversation in his office with Ahmed on Wednesday as “difficult.”
“My thought was to make him my first embrace when we clinch a playoff spot this year because of everything he’s been through, we’ve been through, this organization has been through,” Lovullo said. “But we’ll put that on pause; it’s not going to happen.”
Ahmed mentioned not just the difficulty in coming back from the surgery but in having to adapt to a role as a part-time player. After a lifetime of playing every day, Ahmed this year platooned with young shortstop Geraldo Perdomo. He struggled to adjust. He hit just .212 with a .560 OPS, but his issues against left-handed pitchers (.155 average, .404 OPS) were most glaring given the success he used to have against them.
“I’ve never been on any type of team and not played,” Ahmed said. “From the competitive standpoint, it was challenging. But I tried to turn that into finding a way to still help us compete and win even when I wasn’t in the lineup or on the field. I did that to the best of my abilities. I tried to help all of our young guys, encourage guys, the guys that were struggling, find tips on pitchers and get guys prepared, do things like that.”
In the end, it wasn’t enough. He wants to keep playing, saying he still feels he has “a lot of baseball left in me.” It will have to be somewhere else.
Ahmed spoke with a handful of reporters about 10 minutes after his ex-teammates loaded onto a bus for a road trip that begins in Chicago. Earlier in the week, he passed outfielder Chris Young for fifth place on the club’s all-time games played list. He was 18 games away from passing catcher Miguel Montero for fourth.
“I spent a long time here,” he said. “I just gave it everything I got. I’m going to miss the guys on the team.”
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Nick Ahmed’s time with Dbacks comes to end; club promotes top prospect