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Prospect Retro: Mike Fontenot

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I decided to do Mike Fontenot as a prospect retro at the same time as Ryan Theriot...they have always been paired together in my mind, probably since they were both LSU infielders who took some time to adjust to pro ball.

Fontenot was drafted in the first round of the 2001 draft by the Orioles, out of Louisiana State University, where Ryan Theriot was his double play mate up the middle. Considered a solid all-around player with above average offensive potential and a decent glove, he signed late and didn't play that summer. I gave him a Grade B in the 2002 book based on his college work.

The Orioles sent Fontenot to Frederick in the Carolina League in '02. He hit .263/.333/.364, which was considered disappointing...not much power, mediocre plate discipline, 117 strikeouts in 481 at-bats. His swing got mechanical and he had trouble with the strike zone. Even his defense took a step backward according to the scouting reports I have from back then. I rated him a Grade C in the '03 book.

Fontenot moved up to Double-A in 2003 and improved across the board, hitting .325/.399/.481 with 12 homers and 16 steals. He cut his strikeout rate, raised his walks, showed the smooth swing he demonstrated in college, and tightened up his defense. He also looked more comfortable in '02 he looked overmatched mentally at times...but in '03 he seeemd to grow into his game a little more. I moved him  back up to a Grade B for 2004.

2004 was another year of adjustment: he hit .279/.346/.420 with 8 homers, 10 triples, adn 14 steals for Triple-A Ottawa. His plate discipline slipped again, and overall his performance was about midway between 2002 and 2003. Scouts said that he became too power-conscious and crossed up his swing again against Triple-A pitching. The Orioles shipped him to the Cubs as part of the Sammy Sosa deal in February '05, reuniting Fontenot with Theriot.

Fontenot spent 2005 with Triple-A Iowa, hitting .272/.377/.430, though with better strike zone judgment. He returned to Iowa in 2006, hitting .295/.374/.449. I saw him play both seasons for the I-Cubs, and he was interesting to times he looked like a very skilled major league hitter, with gap to gap power and a mature approach, but at other times he would swing from the heels and get himself out.

2007 was a make/break season for him...age 27, with three mediocre Triple-A seasons under his belt. If he was ever going to breakthrough, it would be then. He ended up playing great in Triple-A (.336/.384/.540 in 55 games), and doing enough in major league action (.278/.336/.402) to stay in the picture as a roster option. He hasn't played as well this year, being used as a pinch-hitter and platoon guy. In his major league career overall, Fontenot is hitting .268/.343/.399 in 321 at-bats.

Based on the totality of his minor league record, I think that's about what we can expect from him. He should have a long career as a bench guy and platoon partner, but he won't be the star scouts expected him to be coming out of college. As for why that is, the most common thing I hear is "inconsistent approach," still trying to hit for power too often, with the result of short-circuiting his production. I would be interested in the observations of Cubs fans who have seen him more frequently recently than I have. Maybe he needs to take up yoga or zen or Jedism something..."trying too hard" to get what you want often results in the exact opposite result. Letting for Force flow seems to work better, at least in my experience.