Arizona Diamondbacks: Revitalised D-Backs still have questions at shortstop

The Diamondbacks’ are blessed with a wealth of high-profile prospects, with no less than five prospects in Keith Law’s top 100 prospects – and that’s with newly acquired catcher Gabriel Moreno missing out on the list due to his 61 days of service time for Toronto last season.

One of the most talked about names is 2022 draftee Jordan Lawlar who was the second overall selection in 2021 and sits 11th on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 (ninth on Keith Law’s rankings) and with many touting him as the star shortstop of the future for the snakes. Whilst there may be a potential debut awaiting Lawlar in 2023, it may be smarter to allow him further time to mature in the minors after his rapid ascent to Double-A, where he was roughly four years younger than his competition. Whilst the future is in good hands, concerns remain about the present situation at shortstop.

Nick Ahmed has been the sure-fire starter in the desert since his first full season in 2015. Whilst that tenure has resulted in two Gold Gloves, the offensive aspect of Ahmed’s game has left a lot to be desired. This is in part due to health concerns, particularly his shoulder, which have repeatedly sidelined Ahmed with three trips to the injured list in 2022 alone, limiting him to 54 plate appearances. Rather unsurprisingly, the injuries have hampered his power output, with the former UCONN infielder sitting in the 18th percentile for max exit velocity. A look at seasons before the injury issues do not point to much hope for an offensive rebound, with Ahmed regularly sitting in the bottom third of the league for major offensive metrics. 2019 proved to be his best season with the bat, although it is worth noting this ‘juiced balls’ year saw offensive numbers increase across the league. Whilst his defence has remained elite at arguably the hardest defensive position on the diamond, it is not surprising that fans and club officials alike will be looking at the next man up if Ahmed cannot get healthy for 2023.

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Unfortunately, the stats do not make for prettier reading when looking at Ahmed’s understudy Geraldo Perdomo. In many ways, Perdomo fits in a similar mould to Ahmed as a glove-first player with limited offensive production. Through 431 at-bats over the course of the 2022 season, Perdomo struggled to a 58 OPS+ (a metric where 100 is league average), with his Baseball Savant stats making for dire reading. He sat in the first percentile in xSLG and the second percentile in hard-hit rate, placing him in the bottom 2% of all MLB players.

The saving grace for Perdomo remains his defensive prowess, with him sitting in the 80th percentile for Outs Above Average. It was this defence that enabled the D-Backs’ shortstop corps to not be entirely deficient, although the club still sat 26th out of all 30 MLB teams in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) accrued by shortstops with -1.5 highlighting the glaring issues at the position.

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This all sounds pretty doom and gloom, but there may be a ray of sunshine poking through the clouds over the Sonoran Desert, and he comes with an excellent name.

Blaze Alexander has been in the D-Backs’ organisation since 2018, when he was picked in the 11th round out of the prestigious IMG Academy in Florida. Capable of playing across the infield dirt, he is predominantly a shortstop with a cannon of an arm. Alexander dominated rookie ball, posting a .955 OPS and followed it up with a solid sophomore season in A-ball with a .737 OPS for the year. Alexander was unluckily a victim of the 2020 pandemic-cancelled minor-league season and struggled to regain the promising form he showed post-draft. During his 2021 season, a lack of consistent contact resulted in a dip in his batting average to just .218 and a dip in his power output. These pointed to a decline in his prospect status dropping from the ninth-best prospect in the D-Backs’ system in 2019 to 18th for 2021.

AMARILLO, TEXAS – JUNE 11: Outfielder Blaze Alexander #1 of the Amarillo Sod Poodles bats during the game against the Frisco RoughRiders at HODGETOWN Stadium on June 11, 2022 in Amarillo, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

Alexander was to prove his doubters wrong with a dominant 2022 season which saw him rise to Triple-A Reno and the cusp of the big leagues. His slash line offers an insight to the improvements in his game with his .301/.389/.540 highlighting his improved power and advanced bat-to-ball skills. Whilst it is true that both Amarillo and Reno are hitter-friendly environments, there is no doubt that the improvement to 20 homers this past season, nearly besting his entire career total of 22, was down to refined technique and no fluke.

The prospect of Alexander donning the Sedona red in 2023 inched ever closer as he was added to the 40-man roster to protect him from being nabbed by another organisation in the Rule 5 draft, further showing the faith the organisation has in his ability. It is certain to be a pivotal spring for Alexander as he tries to assert himself and gain the attention away from the established contenders for starting shortstop, but if Ahmed continues to struggle to stay healthy and Perdomo can’t put it together at the plate, the position is there for Alexander’s taking.

Featured image of Blaze Alexander by John E. Moore III/Getty Images.

Matthew O’Brien is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. You can follow him on Twitter; @DiamondbacksUk.

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