The Detroit Tigers are hard up for middle infielders in the upper minors. Could recently released Nolan Fontana be of assistance?
The Detroit Tigers have a lot of middle infield depth at the lower levels of the minors. However, the depth has yet to make its way up to the AAA/majors, leaving the Tigers a bit thin up the middle at the moment.
Jose Iglesias is on the disabled list with an ab injury, and may not return this year. That has left the middle infield up to some combination of Niko Goodrum, Ronny Rodriguez and Dawel Lugo. Dixon Machado is in the picture as well, but his big league performance earlier in the year (.206/.263/.290) is uninspiring, to say the least.
Iglesias is a free agent after this season, meaning it is possible he has played his last game as a Tiger. While there is plenty of reason to bring him back for a year (or two), the team could also explore other stopgap options. Enter infielder Nolan Fontana, who was just given his unconditional release by the Angels.
Fontana, the guy from Anchorman?
No, that’s Brian Fantana. Nolan Fontana is a former second round pick by the Houston Astros in 2012. The Florida product has appeared at shortstop, second base and third base in his minor league career, with the majority of his appearances coming at short. He is a career .236/.353/.363 hitter in 373 games at Triple-A, boating a solid 14.6% walk rate. His AAA numbers this season have yielded a 20.9% walk rate and a 120 wRC+.
Fontana’s elite plate discipline and versatility around the diamond have given him a handful of call ups by the Angels. 20 games is too small of a sample to make any sweeping conclusions, but I’m not going to lie to you: They haven’t gone exceptionally well.
Between 2017 and 2018, Fontana has gone 2-for-31 with four walks (11.4%) and 14 strikeouts (40.0%). His two hits have both gone for home runs, but it’s clear Fontana has been overmatched in his brief big league showing.
However, he has over 1,700 innings of shortstop experience at Triple-A, and has been given solid ratings for his glove-work. It’s hard to argue that he’s definitively better than Lugo/Rodriguez/Goodrum, but he gives the Tigers another option to toss into the mix while Iglesias is out.
The Detroit Tigers can easily clear a spot on their 40-man roster for Fontana, by moving either Iggy or John Hicks onto the 60-day DL. If he performs well down the stretch, they can keep him on as a utility option/AAA depth next year. If he doesn’t, no harm done.