Nick Ahmed Jersey

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A previous regime considered Arizona shortstop Nick Ahmed too stubborn to succeed at the plate. He still bristles at the memory. It is a good thing he never paid it much attention.

“I always have been convicted in knowing what I wanted to do,” Ahmed said last week. “It just took me longer that I would have liked to be able to do it.”

Ahmed, who won his first Gold Glove in 2018, is having his second consecutive career year on the offensive side. He has career highs with 17 homers and 73 RBIs with a month left in the season, besting the 16/70 RBIs he had a year ago. He ranks third among NL shortstops in RBIs, his OPS has risen from .701 to .768, and his 4.1 WAR trails only the Cubs’ Javier Baez at the position.

Health has had something to do with it. Ahmed is on pace to have more than 550 plate appearances for the second year in a row after being limited by season-ending injuries the previous two, a right hip impingement in 2016 and a fractured metacarpal in 2017.

More than anything, however, his success can be traced to a commitment to a hitting approach that through trial and error he came to embrace. If it works, don’t fix it.

“The old school way of teaching hitting was what I got taught from a really young age — swing down on the ball, use your hands, hit the ball on the ground. I got taught that my whole life, and I wasn’t very good,” Ahmed said.

“So when I got past that a little bit and started to do some of my own thing, it was unconventional to a certain degree. People didn’t like how it looked and how I practiced. They thought I was stubborn. I was like, ‘No, I know what is right, and I’m going to keep working at it.’ I guess in a way it is gratifying to work through that. The old jargon that is well out of date now. It has been a long process. It’s going to keep coming.”

Ahmed, 29, was acquired from Atlanta as part of the Justin Upton trade in 2013, and he always was considered among the best defensive shortstops at every level on his way through the Arizona system. His offensive production lagged, however, raising concerns in the organization about his ability to fit at the major league level despite Gold Glove-caliber defense.

“The nuts and bolts of it is trying to create a swing where I can load to see the ball, make a good decision, and get a swing that is on plane for as long as possible, creating margin for error,” Ahmed said.

“People can believe what they want, but there are cases, guys all around the league, who have turned themselves around. Guys who weren’t very good to guys who are playing very well. Nothing is fixed. Everything can grow and get better. That’s the way I like to think about things.”

Ahmed did not name names, but players such as Dodgers infielder Max Muncy and Boston’s J.D. Martinez are examples of hitters who have had success as their careers progressed.

The Diamondbacks have noticed. The front office had preliminary discussions with Ahmed’s camp last offseason about the viability of a contract extension, and momentum for an extension certainly will pick up this winter as Ahmed approaches his final year of arbitration eligibility.

“He has grown into a very, very good hitter, and that’s not stoping either. He continues to show no satisfaction with where he is at,” said Arizona manager Torey Lovullo, who also alluded to Ahmed’s leadership and clubhouse presence.

“Those decisions (about his future in Arizona) are obviously not in my area, but I can talk about what he means to this team and this organization and certainly say that he has shown us how important he is every single day.”

The trade of Zack Grienke left the D-Backs with plenty of money to spend moving forward — the principle reason for the trade — and a long-term extension for Ahmed appears both affordable and wise. He makes $3.66 million this season and would be due a bump to perhaps $6 million-$6.25 million in his final year of arbitration, if it comes to that.

Minnesota shortstop Jorge Polanco signed a five-year, $25.75 million contract this spring, a deal bought out his three arbitration years. Ahmed could expect any long-term deal he signs to have a greater average annual value since he is closer to free agency.

“I like it here. I like the group here. I like the players. I like the way this organization is run. I like the coaching staff,” Ahmed said.

“If (a long-term deal) is an option, we’ll explore it at the end of the year. Right how I’m focused on baseball.”

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