HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 26: Infieler Nolan Fontana of the Houston Texans, who was selected by Houston in the second round of the 2012 MLB First Year Player Draft, is introduced during a press conference at Minute Maid Park on June 26, 2012 in Houston, Texas. Fontana is flanked by Bobby Heck, Asst. General Manager, left, and Jeff Luhnow, Houston Astros General Manager. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
It may be unprecedented for the recent history of this club, but it's not entirely out of the realm of possibilities for its new GM. What am I talking about? Let me let Zachary Levine fill you in:
With second-round pick Nolan Fontana now under contract, the Astros will take a step that assistant general manager of scouting Bobby Heck said he has never taken with another draft pick in his five years in the organization.
Fontana, a shortstop out of the University of Florida, will skip all three usual short-season landing spots for draft picks and report directly to full-season Class A Lexington.
Bobby Heck may not have sent a first or a second-round pick straight to Low A ball, but Jeff Luhnow has. Let's look at those two players (and a third who kind of compares) to see what, if anything, we can figure out about Fontana.
A while back, I looked at how Luhnow's first and second round picks progressed when he was overseeing the Cardinals farm system. That's a great starting point to look for comparables here. We only have two guys who skipped all the short-season teams in those seasons: Brett Wallace and Jon Jay. Because he's a shortstop and because he made it to full-season ball after signing, we'll also look at Tyler Greene.
First up? Mr. Supreme Court Justice.
Jon Jay, drafted in 2nd round, 2006, out of the University of Miami, and signed by June 28. He ended up playing in 60 games for Quad Cities in the Midwest League that season, hitting .342/.416/.462. He ended up spending 409 games in the minors, but needed just 215 to make it to Triple-A. At that point, you can assume he was an injury away from the majors.
In college, Jay profiled as more of a defensive expert. Here's a scouting report on him from the 2006 super regionals by Baseball America.
Jay, he doesn't look like anything special but he's a tough out. If you can throw upper 80s, you can get in on him, but not if you don't have a good fastball even if you locate. And Jay is super in center.
While in college, Jay posted a line of .361/.490/.520 in his last season at Miami. That included a 30/39 strikeout to walk ratio. He also was successful on 31 of 38 stolen base attempts and only committed two errors in 66 games.
Brett Wallace, drafted in the first round in 2008 out of Arizona State, signed by July 1 and was sent straight to Quad Cities for 41 games. He was later promoted straight to Double-A for another 14 games at the end of that 2008 season, after hitting .327/.418/.490 in the Midwest League. He reached Triple-A the next season, spending just 86 games at the lower levels.
In contrast to the other three guys on this list, his defense was never a strong suit. Here's what MLB.com had to say before the 2008 draft:
Drawing rave reviews for his work in the box, he's one of the best hitters in college and perhaps in the entire Draft class. His unbelievable plate discipline will undoubtedly be attractive to some teams, though it's unlikely he'll play anything but first as a pro. He could be the kind of Major Leaguer who hits .300 with 25 homers and a high OBP annually.
At Arizona State in his last season, Wallace hit .410/.520/.753 with a 33/48 strikeout to walk ratio. Wallace finished the season with 13 errors in 152 chances, but had just two in 59 chances during conference play.
Tyler Greene, drafted in the first round in 2005 out of Georgia Tech, signed by June 30 and went to New Jersey in the New York/Penn League. That's the short-season league where Tri-Cities plays. He spent 35 games there, hitting .261/.352/.370 before being promoted to High-A Palm Beach in the Florida State League for 20 games.
He was sent back to Low A Quad Cities the next season, but split time before being promoted back to High-A that same season. It took him 347 games to get to Triple-A, but that was because of a "devastating knee injury" he suffered during the 2007 season.
While Greene's defense was never really questioned in college, his offense was. Here's a snippet from the summer of 2005:
Green is a 60 runner (some say 70 under way) on the 20-80 scouting scale, with good instincts on the basepaths and elsewhere. A plus arm and good range make him at least an averages defender at short. The question is offense. His hands are just OK both at the plate and in the field. Greene’s swing has evolved to a metal-bat, inside-out style that doesn't incorporate his hands, short-circuiting his power and leaving him with several holes. His aptitude with wood, however, reminds scouts of Cubs prospect Matt Murton, who also hit better in summers on the Cape than with Georgia Tech.
The questions about Greene's bat didn't translate entirely to his last season at Georgia Tech, as the shortstop hit .372/.460/.584. But, he also had a 71/38 strikeout to walk ratio, the worst of all four players featured here. He was successful on 31 of 32 steal attempts, but had 20 errors in 61 games.
That leads us to Fontana, who will be going straight to Low A Lexington.
Fontana's defense has gotten fairly solid reviews, with questions about his bat tempering his ceiling:
Fontana is a bit of a favorite of mine as a true shortstop with great instincts and plenty of arm as well as a strong approach at the plate that has led to high on-base percentages both years at Florida.
This season at Florida, Fontana hit .284/.406/.444 with a 27/48 strikeout to walk ratio. He had by far the lowest slash line of these three guys, but remember the BBCOR bats have severely limited offense in the college game the past two seasons.
Fontana only had seven errors in 61 games and stole 13 bases in 14 attempts.
There's every reason to believe Fontana could be more like Jay than Greene, hitting enough to get through the system quickly and become a decent player on this team. However, even if he ends up like the other shortstop, he could definitely fill a role as a backup infielder on this roster within a few years.
The first sign we'll have is how he does at Lexington this season.