Braves Shortstop Nick Ahmed Shines At Lynchburg

ZEBULON, N.C.—At first glance, Braves shortstop Nick Ahmed's performance for high Class A Lynchburg this season hardly seemed revelatory. In 506 at-bats he hit .269/.337/.391—right around the Carolina League average on all counts—but the 22-year-old balanced that offensive output with a wide array of tools and off-the-charts makeup.

An above-average runner, Ahmed led the Carolina League with 40 stolen bases (in 50 attempts) and 84 runs.

"He's aggressive and wants to learn," Lynchburg hitting coach Bobby Moore said. "He picks up (pitchers') moves, timing to the plate, and takes advantage of it."

Ahmed had also been reliable defensively, showcasing plus range and arm strength, if not as much flash as some of his league-mates. He led all CL shortstops in fielding average (.963), assists (457) and every other counting statistic, while only Myrtle Beach's Hanser Alberto recorded more assists per game.

"His defense at shortstop is great," Moore said. "I think some of the errors that he has made have come on balls that normal shortstops cannot even get to."

Though scouts don't project much more than gap power down the line for Ahmed—he shared the CL lead with 36 doubles—they believe he'll maintain a healthy batting average given his selectivity and feel for contact.

Renowned for a tireless work ethic during his college career at Connecticut, Ahmed has brought a take-no-prisoners attitude with him to the professional ranks. That helped the 2011 second-rounder make the sizable leap from the Rookie-level Appalachian League a year ago to Lynchburg this season.

"It's through the roof—excellent, excellent, excellent makeup," Moore said. "The kid comes to work every day. If you tell him he does something good, he wants to do it better. He expects more from himself. I think it comes from his background."

Down, But Not Out

Ahmed and fellow Connecticut stars Matt Barnes (now with the Red Sox) and George Springer (Astros) were determined to help Connecticut take the next step as juniors in 2011. The Huskies missed the NCAA postseason during Ahmed's freshman year in 2009, then bowed out to Oregon in regionals during his sophomore campaign.

Though UConn did break through to super regionals, winning the Clemson regional, the 2011 season wasn't without its trials. Ahmed suffered a collapsed lung in an April 25 game against Quinnipiac, knocking him out of action for a month.

"It was kind of a freak injury," Ahmed said. "I hit a ball and ended up colliding with the first baseman. I went down and thought that I had knocked the wind out of myself.

"I got up and regrouped and ran out to play shortstop the next inning, and I just could not breathe very well. I knew something wasn't right and ended up having to come out of the game."

At first Ahmed and UConn trainers thought that he sustained a collarbone or rib injury, but an X-ray found that Ahmed's lung had collapsed and 80 percent deflated. As if the diagnosis weren't bad enough, the original procedure to re-inflate Ahmed's lung was carried out incorrectly, so he had to be transferred to another hospital for a second procedure.

When all was said and done, Ahmed had spent 15 days in two different hospitals. He returned to the field within two weeks of his release from the hospital and played in Connecticut's opening-round game of the Big East Conference tournament on May 25.

As one of the team's leaders and key contributors, Ahmed felt it necessary to make a quick return.

"It was probably a little bit too soon to be playing," he said. "But we were in the conference tournament and I wanted to get back out there."

Ahmed played well following his speedy return and attracted the interest of the Braves with his tools, physicality, toughness, and gamer mentality. Atlanta selected him 85th overall and signed him shortly after Connecticut's postseason run ended with a loss to eventual College World Series champion South Carolina in super regional play.

Putting In The Work

Though he recovered from his collapsed lung, Ahmed struggled to regain his pre-injury strength. He batted .262/.346/.379 with four homers in 248 at-bats for Rookie-level Danville.

"I lost about 20 pounds from being in the hospital," he said. "Everything was fine with the actual lung, but I guess that I played with my weight down quite a bit."

Last winter, Ahmed dedicated much of his time to putting that weight back on in order regain his functional strength.

"I had a good strength coach and we worked hard to get a lot of that strength back so that I would be ready for a long, full season," Ahmed said. "I think I've done a good job to maintain that strength, by staying on top of my nutrition, weighlifting and conditioning."

Unsatisfied with his performance at the plate, Ahmed also put in a significant amount of work to revamp his hitting mechanics and overall offensive approach.

"I'm trying to be more balanced at the plate," he said. "I'm also working on the mental game and being ready every single pitch. Just paying attention to pitchers' tendencies and sequencing and knowing when I have the opportunity to really drive a pitch."

The hard work had paid off.

"When he first came here he tried to pull the ball more," Moore said. "Focusing on using the whole field is the key with him (because) it allows him to have a more consistent swing path. I think that we're beginning to scratch into that power.

"The sky is the limit for him. He's got all the ability, tools and a good head on his shoulders with a strong work ethic."