The Gators have quite the loaded cache of hitters this season, including potential number one overall pick Mike Zunino, slugging outfielder Preston Tucker and two-way star Brian Johnson. An underrated cog in their lineup, however, is shortstop Nolan Fontana, arguably the slickest defender to ever come through the UF baseball program, and one of the top shortstop prospects from the college class.
Fontana’s greatest strength lies in his fielding ability. Twice he’s been named to the SEC All-Defensive Team, a feat achieved by only one other Gator player, and with strong play so far in 2012, he seems a lock to win a spot on the squad again. Last season, Fontana committed 12 errors all season, good for a .960 fielding percentage. During his freshman season, he made only four errors (.986), and ranked among the top shortstops in terms of fielding percentage.
The fact that he started 63 games at shortstop for the Gators as a freshman speaks volumes about the coaching staff’s belief in his defensive ability.
Fontana isn’t all defense though. While he has never hit for a high average (.289 in ’11, .287 in ’10), he has been incredibly adept at getting on base. He led the Southeastern Conference with 52 walks last season, and walked 53 times as a freshman. Fontana has also stepped up when it counts, especially in conference play. He hit .318 with 24 RBI and 18 walks against SEC opponents last year and was named SEC Player of the Week twice.
His average (.190) for the Gators’ run through the College World Series didn’t look too good, but he more than made up for his lack of hits with eight RBI, eight runs scored and seven walks.
Fontana’s ceiling is dependent on how he advances as a hitter. You never want to see a college hitter who fails to crack .300 AND hits for little power, but somehow he makes it work. He’s shown a little pop, slugging five homers last season, and four already through the team’s first 25 games this season, but that will never be a part of his game.
At best, he’s a number two hitter who offers Gold Glove caliber defense. That’s only if his bat comes along, though, and early results from this season (.286) seem to indicate that’s still a work in progress.