Fontana reaches six times in debut

Astros' second-rounder records first pro hit, draws five walks

Nolan Fontana batted .284 in 66 games with Florida in 2012. (Phil Sandlin/AP)

By Ashley Marshall / Special to | July 5, 2012 9:51 PM

In his senior year at the University of Florida, Astros' second-round Draft pick Nolan Fontana led all full-time Gators in walks and on-base percentage. His mindset there was "never look back, never look ahead."

One game into his professional career, it looks as though he's got a promising future as a table-setter at the Minor League level too.

Batting second and serving as the designated hitter, Fontana reached base all six times in his pro debut in the Class A Lexington Legends' 10-8 loss to the Hagerstown Suns.

The 21-year-old drew five walks, recorded his first pro hit -- an RBI single -- and stole his first base.

"It was fun to get out there and start playing," Fontana said. "The guys here are very welcoming and it's all pretty exciting. It's unfortunate that we lost, but I'm glad to get my feet wet and start going. I was more excited than nervous about playing with this new group of guys.

"There are expectations from many different people. The type of player I am, I just want to play the game the right way and play the game hard. I had a great time and I'm ready to get after it again tomorrow."

Fontana walked in his first at-bat and he swiped second base on the back end of a double steal with Delino DeShields. He then singled in the second to plate Jose Fernandez from second base, and he walked in the third to load the bases with two outs.

"It was pretty cool," Fontana said of his first hit. "When I came back into the dugout, the guys were having fun with me. It was nice to get that first hit out of the way early in my first game.

"He got ahead of me, I was down in the count and he threw a fastball in. I knew there was a guy on third so I just wanted to hit a fly ball, but it fell for a hit."

Fontana was issued a third free pass to lead off the sixth and he scored on ensuing batter Zachary Johnson's double to left field. He took ball four once more at the star of the eighth and then again with one out in the ninth.

"It's rare for me or anybody in the game," Fontana said of his five walks. "It was nice to get on base so much. I'm a pretty picky hitter. But when it comes to getting certain pitches I try to square the ball up and, depending on the situation, get my job done. They were mixing it up pretty well, there wasn't an overload of any one pitch. I just tried to see a good pitch to hit and then swing at it.

"I was trying to be patient. It has been a couple weeks since I've seen live pitching, so I tried to see several pitches and pick the right pitches to hit."

A shortstop in college, Fontana batted .284 with nine homers, 30 RBIs and a .406 on-base percentage in 66 games in 2012. He was one of only three Gators to record more walks than strikeouts (48 to 27) and he had the best walk rate of anybody on the team.

Despite having above-average plate discipline and the ability to hit for average and power, there's even more to his game.

"I would say my mind is my best asset," Fontana said. "It's such a long season and you play so many games during the year, my mind is one of the biggest things I bring to the team because it's such a game of failure. Being able to take it day by day or pitch by pitch is my biggest asset."

And the speed? Deceptively quick, some might say.

"I would say that I'm quick, but not fast," he said. "I just try to run instinctively and that takes over when I'm on the bases. I feel like baserunning is a huge part of the game and that is something I pride myself on."

In starting his pro career in the South Atlantic League, Fontana leapfrogged Rookie-level Greeneville and Class A Short-Season Tri-City. But he said that considering the baseball education and grounding he received at Florida, he's ready for the challenges that await him.

"Regardless of where they put me I just have to go and appreciate where I'm at." he said. "I've been given this opportunity, now I have to enjoy it and play the game right.

"Going to Florida definitely progressed me as a player and as a person. I matured a lot since my high school days and being there in Florida helped me slow the game down and take it one pitch at a time. Never look behind, never look ahead."

At Florida, the left-handed hitting Fontana led the Gators to the 2012 College World Series. He received Second Team All-SEC and All-Defensive Team honors this season. He was named to the All-SEC Team and the All-SEC Defensive Team in all three of his seasons with the Gators. reported last month that the Astros signed Fontana to an $875,000 bonus, slightly over the assigned slot value of $844,100.

Since then, the 21-year-old took batting practice with the Major League club at Minute Maid Park before returning home to spend time with his family in Orlando.

"I have been visiting my family, because people rarely see their families during the season," Fontana said. "I didn't take one day with them for granted. I got to go to my brother Danny's wedding and that was awesome. It was great being able to spend some time with them."

On Thursday, Hagerstown reliever Gregory Holt (2-1) allowed one unearned run on one hit over three innings to earn the win. First baseman Brett Newsome homered and plated four runs and third baseman Matthew Skole and designated hitter Steven Souza Jr. also went yard in the victory.

Lexington's Gabriel Garcia (0-1) surrendered five runs -- four earned -- on four hits and a walk over three innings. Legends first baseman Zachary Johnson plated three runs and left fielder Brandon Meredith slugged a two-run homer in the losing cause.

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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