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D-backs' Top 5 shortstops: Gilbert's take

@SteveGilbertMLB
April 21, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. If you don’t agree, vote in the Twitter poll below.

D-backs All-Time Team: 3B | 2B | 1B | C

Here is Steve Gilbert’s ranking of the top five shortstops in D-backs history. Next week: left fielders

1. Stephen Drew, 2006-12
Key fact: Drew is the franchise leader in triples (52).
Fun fact: His first baseball glove as a kid was one his dad found for him in a dumpster. Drew treasured that glove, and his custom-made Rawlings gloves had the same webbing to remind him of it.

Stephen Drew likely would have been the No. 1 pick in the 2004 MLB Draft, but because he was represented by agent Scott Boras and demanding a large signing bonus, he slipped to 15th, where the D-backs scooped him up.

Drew made his big league debut during the 2006 season and became the team’s primary shortstop after that. He was slightly above average defensively, but well above average for the position offensively.

“He had to deal with incredibly high expectations from the minute he put a Diamondback uniform on,” said Bob Melvin, Drew’s first manager in Arizona. “That’s difficult to do. We had some pretty high-profile guys there at that time, but no more so than him based on the position that he played. He was so smooth that sometimes it looked like he wasn’t playing 100 percent, but he always was, and he was a great teammate. He made it to the big leagues pretty quickly, and he had a tremendous impact on our teams when he was very young.”

2. Nick Ahmed, 2014-present
Key fact: Ahmed has won two consecutive Gold Glove Awards.
Fun fact: Both sets of great-grandparents came to America from Italy through Ellis Island in New York.

There is not a fiercer competitor on the current D-backs team than Nick Ahmed. His dedication to playing every day was on display last September when, with the D-backs all but officially eliminated from the postseason race, he insisted on playing in a day game following a 19-inning night game that had lasted 6 hours, 53 minutes.

Ahmed is a wizard with the glove -- his 18 defensive runs saved last year ranked first among shortstops -- and he has made real strides at the plate, improving his OPS from .564 in 2016 to .704 across 2017-18 and .753 last season.

Just before Spring Training started this year, the D-backs signed Ahmed to a four-year extension worth $32.5 million plus incentives. Give Ahmed another couple of seasons at his current level of production and he should be first on this list.

"Put it this way, if Nick Ahmed made an error, you assumed he had the flu." said Mark Grace, a four-time Gold Glove winner.

3. Craig Counsell, 2000-03, ’05-06
Key fact: MVP of 2001 National League Championship Series.
Fun fact: Counsell was told by Bob Melvin during his second stint in Arizona that he was going to be a big league manager one day.

If we had a category for multi-position player, Craig Counsell would rank No. 1. He played roughly the same percentage of games at second base, shortstop and third base during his time with the D-backs, so he could have been slotted into any of those rankings. Here, he just edges out Tony Womack for third.

In 2000, Counsell was released by the Dodgers during Spring Training and the D-backs jumped at the opportunity to sign him. He had two different stints in Arizona, and the first included a World Series championship. Counsell played a key role in the postseason in 2001, winning NLCS MVP honors and delivering a home run in the first inning of Game 1 of the World Series -- which manager Bob Brenly credited with sending the Yankees a message that the D-backs were there to play.

“[Counsell], he was terrific anywhere,” Melvin said. “He’s plus-plus wherever you put him on the diamond. You knew he was going to be prepared. You knew he was going to make all the plays, and he brought a leadership quality to the field every day. All you had to do was tell Couns where he was playing on a particular night and he would be ready. You knew he would be sound defensively and put together some really, really good at-bats.”

4. Tony Womack, 1999-2003
Key fact: Womack is the franchise leader in stolen bases (182).
Fun fact: His walk-off hit in Game 5 of the 2001 NL Division Series against the Cardinals came right after he missed on a bunt attempt.

Tony Womack is one of those players that the advanced metrics didn’t show his worth per se, but managers, coaches and teammates have a far greater opinion of him.

“All he did was win,” Bob Melvin said. “He was a winner, and winners show up in the end. And he always showed up at the end. I don’t know that there was a guy on that team that got bigger hits for us than Tony Womack did.”

In addition to his walk-off single to win the NLDS, Womack delivered a clutch RBI double in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. The hit tied the game, which the D-backs would go on to win thanks to Luis Gonzalez’s walk-off single.

5. Chris Owings, 2013-18
Key fact: Owings led the Majors with 11 triples in 2016.
Fun fact: His two brothers, Kyle and Connor, played in the Arizona system. Kyle was a pitcher and Connor a second baseman.

It's not hard to wonder just how differently Chris Owings' career with the D-backs would have gone if not for a pair of injuries.

A shoulder injury hampered him throughout much of 2014 and eventually led to surgery that offseason. He tried to rework his mechanics at the plate the following year to avoid a one-armed follow-through, and his OPS fell by more than 100 points.

Then in 2017, he had a .741 OPS in August when he fractured a finger on his right hand while attempting to bunt. The injury cost Owings the rest of the season.

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.