D-backs prospect Ahmed not listening to doubters
Shortstop, acquired in Upton deal with Braves, confident in abilities
Nick Ahmed's college baseball coach had a sure-fire way of motivating one of his star pupils.
"He told me after I left that the way he kind of motivated me to hit was to tell me that I couldn't hit," Ahmed said.
If that kind of talk motivates Ahmed, it's safe to say that he has plenty to draw from these days.
The D-backs' shortstop prospect (ranked No. 13 in Arizona's system) hit .236 for Double-A Mobile last season, and scouts have raised doubts about his ability to hit at the big league level.
Ahmed, though, does not share that view.
"People that say I can't hit, I don't listen to that, because I know I'm going to hit," Ahmed said. "Just kind of throws some fuel on the fire and gets my engine going and fires me up a little bit, I guess."
Ahmed was drafted by the Braves in the second round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft and came to the D-backs last winter in the trade that sent outfielder Justin Upton to Atlanta.
Invited to big league camp for the first time last spring, Ahmed made an immediate impression on manager Kirk Gibson with his work ethic and slick fielding.
"It was great," Ahmed said of his Spring Training experience. "It was good to get a taste of it. It was great to be around a lot of guys that have a ton of experience, and learn from the big league coaches. Just being around the guys and seeing how they go about their business, particularly Martin Prado, Paul Goldschmidt and Johnny Mac [McDonald], when he was here with us, he was awesome. He kind of took me under his wing, we took ground balls together and talked a lot. He was really good to me."
Ahmed was assigned to Mobile and got off to a rough start at the plate. He hit .163 in April and .113 in May.
"The first two months were terrible," Ahmed said. "I just wasn't myself, wasn't comfortable, and the results showed it."
The D-backs chalked it up to Ahmed being in a new organization.
"There's no doubt in my mind that when you get traded, you want to prove to your new team that they made the right move," D-backs farm director Mike Bell said. "You don't know anybody, you're not comfortable with everybody, you're trying to impress people, it's just different."
For Ahmed, it was more about adjusting to new coaches and some of the ways things are explained in the Arizona organization that are different from what he was used to in Atlanta's system.
"Certain terminologies resonate with different people, and there were some things that just didn't resonate with me that maybe help other guys," he said. "You just have to kind of figure out what works for you, and I kind of did around June 1."
Ahmed hit .287 in June, .280 in July and .282 in August, which showed him that he was able to make adjustments and that his hitting will continue to get better.
"At the end of the day, I know how much better I've gotten over the last year and a half, and I know how much better I'm going to get over the next two years, five years, 10 years," Ahmed said. "I know what my swing is going to be like, and I know it's going to get better."
And throughout it all, Ahmed's defense was rock solid.
"Nick Ahmed is probably one of the best defensive shortstops in all of baseball," D-backs GM Kevin Towers said.
Ahmed will get all the time he needs to develop offensively in the Minors, given the depth at shortstop in the Arizona system.
The D-backs finished the 2013 season with veteran shortstops Willie Bloomquist and Cliff Pennington on the roster along with prospects Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings. The team is likely to let Bloomquist leave via free agency, but Towers seems willing to keep the other three, which creates a logjam at the position.
Ahmed played second base for the first time last spring, and the more versatile he is, the quicker he might be able to reach the big leagues.
Even if he stays strictly a shortstop, and even with the volume of praise given to his defense thus far, Ahmed is determined to find ways to get better.
"There's something to get better at every single day," Ahmed said. "Whether it's just being more consistent, more accurate with your throws, better with your footwork, better with your reads, everything can be improved upon."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.