Fontanez's Versatility Helps Career, Scrappers
Fontanez, the Indians’ 24th round pick in the 2008 Draft out of Puerto Rico, is smallish in stature at 5’11 and 170-pounds and just turned 20-years old a few weeks back. He has long been considered suspect with the bat, but gifted with the glove where he has plus range and a plus arm at shortstop.
That expertise is now being put to the test this season with him playing on the other side of the infield this year as he is splitting his time between the comforts of shortstop and the unknowns of second base. That ability to pick it with the glove but a lack of a reliable bat has many thinking he could be a utility option down the road as his professional career reaches the upper levels of the minors or potentially the big leagues.
With that in mind, the Indians have had Fontanez play a lot of second base this year at short season Single-A Mahoning Valley, a position that prior to this season he had never really focused on playing before.
“Everything feels great, and I am having a great time here with the guys,” said Fontanez in a recent interview for the IPI. “[The Indians and I] actually talked more about me playing more second base [this year]. I have never really been at second base because since I was like six years old I was at shortstop. I only worked at second base in extended [spring training] for like 15 games this year, but I think it is a pretty good position for me.”
Fontanez has played second base in the past, but it is still a change he is adjusting to and trying to become more comfortable with. He worked out in the offseason with big league utility infielder Alex Cora, which was valuable for him in picking up some of the nuances at second base.
“I worked out in the offseason a little bit with Alex Cora from my hometown, so we worked quite a little bit at shortstop,” said Fontanez. “Also, because he had played second base he was teaching me to play second base because I [am] a little guy and when [I] move up I will play more second base than shortstop. So I actually worked one or two months with him at second base.”
The change from shortstop to second base can take some time to get used to as everything is backwards with the way balls come off the bat, how double plays are turned, the handling of cutoff responsibilities, and so on. But, to him, the hardest adjustment has definitely been turning the double play, especially those started by the third baseman.
“I think the hardest thing at second base is the ball in the hole and when you have to make the double play,” said Fontanez. “You have to throw it backwards and use more of your arm and have quick feet. I also think the rushed double play from the third baseman [is hard].”
Fontanez is also bilingual as he can speak both Spanish and English fluently, so a versatile player like him who can fluently speak the two primary languages in baseball certainly has appeal from a team standpoint. While Spanish is his native language, his dad taught him English since 5th grade and he picked it up from watching lots of cartoons like Tom & Jerry and Scooby Doo.
The utility role is something Fontanez does not want to pigeon hole himself into now; however, if he is being realistic, it is where he best fits in the future considering his lack of a reliable bat. To date, in 29 games with Mahoning Valley he is hitting just .198 (22-111) with 0 HR, 3 RBI and a .532 OPS. Clearly his ability to run, play defense, and his overall intelligence as a player will be his biggest assets as he looks to climb the minor league ladder to potentially reach the big leagues.
“[The Indians] know I can play shortstop, so I think they are trying to make me a second baseman to see if I can play both,” said Fontanez. “Maybe in time I can be a two-way player in the big leagues at shortstop and second base. I would rather be a starter than a utility player, but the main goal is to reach the big leagues. That’s it.”