Florida had racked up its first night with multiple first-round picks in almost 30 years on Monday night when Mike Zunino was drafted by the Mariners and Brian Johnson was drafted by the Red Sox, and a handful of other players are expected to go in the early rounds on Tuesday.
The Gators got the ball rolling again as the draft opened back up at noon, when the Houston Astros drafted Nolan Fontana with the first pick in the second round (61st overall).
The junior became the highest drafted shortstop at Florida since Robby Thompson went in the first round in the June Secondary draft in 1983. The last Florida shortstop taken in Fontana’s range was Adam Davis, who was taken with the 101st overall pick, in the third round, in the 2006 MLB Draft.
Fontana will give the Astros a good long-term option at shortstop as a defensive-minded fielder who can clean up a lot between second and third.
While his hitting could still use some work and might require a brief stint in the minors, his potential is very high as a future star who is a fairly low-risk pick due to his fielding ability and ability to work his way on base by being patient and making good contact.
Says ESPN Insider:
“In the field Fontana is a clear long-term shortstop who gets great reads off the bat and has an accurate arm that plays above its raw strength … he gets on base and shows doubles power but hasn’t had the strong batting averages a high-contact guy like him should have, even in the tough competition of the SEC.”
Fontana’s biggest asset is his glove at shortstop. There’s almost nothing that gets by him easily, and his fielding percentage in his three-year career at Florida speaks volumes.
The junior will fit nicely with the Astros as a potential long-term answer at shortstop due to that ability and his knack for getting on base. Fontana is a very cerebral player who knows how to read pitchers and take lengthy approaches at the plate that help teammates see more pitches and get him on base with a lot of walks.
He’s a solid but unspectacular hitter, making enough contact to get on base frequently enough to score a lot of runs. He doesn’t drive in a ton of runs with power, but his power has improved with each year at Florida to the point he’s at least a threat of going deep every few games.
If Fontana can continue to fine-tune his approach at the plate to become a more consistent singles hitter, he should fit perfectly as a leadoff or No. 2 hitter at the next level.
There’s very little he can clean up in his fielding at this point, so his approach at the plate is the only thing that will really boost his ceiling in the majors.
Career at Florida
Fontana arrived at Florida from West Orange High School with some lofty expectations, and he met and exceeded them as a true freshman.
He started 63 games at shortstop in his first year on campus, earning two freshman All-America honors and making his way onto the second-team All-SEC squad, as well as the league’s Defensive team and All-Freshman team.
As a freshman, Fontana hit .287 with 23 RBI, 20 extra-base hits and 11 stolen bases. His hitting numbers as a sophomore improved to .289 with 49 RBI, 22 extra-base hits, six stolen bases and five home runs.
During the 2012 season for Florida, Fontana’s power has improved considerably. He has hit nine home runs for the Gators this season, while averaging .290 with 28 RBI, 20 extra-base hits and 11 stolen bases.
Chances Fontana returns
As a second-round pick who stands with little chance of improving his draft stock with another season, it’s unlikely Fontana would opt not to sign with Houston.
His defensive ability is his biggest strength, and the only way that changes one way or another would be with an injury, which would deflate his draft stock.
While he could improve his stock slightly if his numbers at the plate continue to improve, it’s almost certainly not worth the risk given his ability to get on base and be a good, consistent leadoff man with a little more work at the plate.
It’s probably in Fontana’s best interests to take the money while it’s there, so don’t expect to see him around next season.