“Our goal isn’t to improve in the win column. Our goal is to get to the postseason and compete for a World Series this year.” Sounds like words a seasoned veteran might relay to the rookies coming into Spring Training, no? Maybe, but not this time. In fact, those are the words of 25-year old Nick Ahmed following his rookie campaign.
Drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 2011 out of the University of Connecticut, Ahmed’s glove and demeanor are something to be praised. The year following his selection in the draft, he was told to pack his bags for sunny Arizona after learning he had been part of the Justin Upton trade.
Ahmed was no throw-in for this trade, however. Baseball America named him the fastest base runner in the Carolina League in 2012. The Braves knew Ahmed had the talent and skills to one day be a big league player. Two years later he was standing in the batter’s box in Chase Field.
This season, Ahmed played a huge role in the success of the Diamondbacks. With a solid core of homegrown talent, GM Dave Stewart has gone all in and is inviting everyone to ‘Join The Evolution’ and watch this team compete for a championship in 2016.
Stewart is a rare player-turned GM. The former Oakland Athletic has 16 seasons as a big league pitcher under his belt. Ahmed thinks that this gives them an advantage few teams are able to carry. “He definitely brings a different element to the table. I think he understands a little bit more about what it takes on the field. From an analytical standpoint he sometimes gets blasted a little bit, but I think he leans ion the right type of people for that information.”
Baseball is one hundred percent a team sport; no one guy can win a game for his club. It takes a 25-man roster to make the postseason, and that is what Arizona’s team will look to do in 2016. However, you need the right guy at the helm. You need the player everyone else can feed off of day in and day out. You need a leader after a hard loss. For the D-Backs, that man is Paul Goldschmidt. America’s first baseman has put up MVP numbers each of the last three seasons earning his way to three straight All-Star, two Golden Glove Awards as well as two Silver Sluggers.
His durability and ungodly 1.005 OPS last year are not the only things the 27-year old brings with him to the ball park each day. “He’s an unbelievable player,” Ahmed said of his teammate. “But more than that, he’s a better guy off the field. A really great leader for our team in the clubhouse, treats guys the right way and sets a great example for us younger guys coming up. Just a really good role model for myself and all the younger guys coming through the system.”
Goldschmidt isn’t the only one Ahmed thinks is helping this club. Among other players, the short stop had nothing but good things to say about All-star A.J. Pollock. The Notre Dame alum hit .315/.367/.498 this season, finishing 14th in the National League MVP voting.
“I wouldn’t want to see him get traded or go anywhere. He’s definitely a great player and a good friend of mine,” Ahmed said. According to FanGraphs’ defensive metric, Pollock was the eighth-best defensive center fielder in 2015, earning his first career Golden Glove award.
The Diamondbacks were one of the best defensive teams in 2015, prompting a 15-win improvement and a third place finish in the N.L. West. They also finished with the sixth-best offense in the game according to FanGraphs.com.
The room for improvement in 2016 comes in the form of starting pitching, and boy did Arizona stun us all by first signing Zack Greinke to a $206 million deal. Then they came out of nowhere and traded the number one overall pick in the 2015 draft Dansby Swanson among others to Atlanta for Shelby Miller.
I don’t know about you but a projected rotation of Greinke, Miller, Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray and Rubby De La Rosa sounds like the best rotation in the N.L. West. Throw in Chase Anderson and Archie Bradley as insurance and there’s a strong chance Arizona will be playing October baseball in 2016. Needless to say, they are my pick to win the division. They have gone all in this offseason, and looks like a young team that’s hungry to win. More importantly, they now have the pieces to do it.