Given the Tampa Bay Rays multitude of options for utility infielders, the signing of Mike Fontenot to a minor league contract on November 11th likely did not register as much more than the signing of organizational filler. However, after the trades of Elliot Johnson and Reid Brignac, the competition for one of the bench slots for the Rays has decreased, and Fontenot may just have an opportunity.
Although Fontenot has spent the majority of his major league time at second base, he can also play third and first and you know the Rays place a premium on versatility. In Spring Training, he has even appeared in left for the Rays, a position he has not played since 2007 for the AAA Iowa Cubs. Fontenot, a lefty batter, also has been a respectable hitter for a utility player, posting a .265/.332/.401 batting line, with a little speed and has displayed occasional pop in his bat, which has typically translated more into doubles than home runs. He also has been above average at taking a walk and working the count, as he has reached base via the free pass in 8.8% of his career plate appearances. And thus far in Spring Training, Fontenot has put together a .308/.500/.385 batting line in 18 plate appearances, drawing 4 walks. Most importantly, Fontenot’s play has caught the attention of manager Joe Maddon.
"“Fontenot, he’s a nice baseball player, man,” Maddon said. “I don’t know much about him, because he’s been in the other league, but he’s really impressive. He’s got a really good swing, a really good swing. Technically he’s very good. The ball’s always on the fat part of the bat when he hits it.”"
Maddon continued to rave about Fontenot, praising his defensive capabilities and stated that he could be a “big part of what we do here….he fits in well.” That fit may also be a major point in his favor. Since the Rays place a high emphasis on camaraderie and a strong, cohesive locker room, his ability to assimilate into the culture may be a deciding factor on whether or not Fontenot makes the team.
Seemingly every year, the Rays are able to make a signing or two that get lost in the shuffle of free agency, yet those players end up playing major roles on the team. Last year, Fernando Rodney and Jeff Keppinger were the latest under the radar signings that made an impact for the Rays. Could Mike Fontenot be next? His versatility could give him a chance, especially if he takes well to playing in the outfield, as does his solid hitting from the left side of the plate. At the very least, Fontenot seems to have made a fan in Joe Maddon, and that can only be a good sign for his chances of making an impact for the Rays in 2013.