Little second baseman posts big numbers

Now leading off, Fontenot leads Keys in 6 categories

Minor-league notebook

Baseball

May 27, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

He's a little guy who carries a big stick.

While the Frederick Keys continue to strain to overcome their atrocious start, second baseman Mike Fontenot thrives.

Last year's first-round draftee of the Orioles has been one of the team's beacons while adapting to the intricacies of hitting leadoff and the grind of playing a 140-game season.

Despite his 5-foot-8, 160-pound frame, Fontenot paces the squad in slugging percentage and is tied for the top in RBIs to supplement his team leads in batting average, hits, on-base percentage and runs.

"He does have some pop," said Keys manager Jack Voigt. "His body is very strong and compact, and he has an aggressive approach at the plate. I think that will make him a successful leadoff hitter that's a run producer."

Fontenot has to adjust to batting first after spending his collegiate career at LSU in the two or three slot.

"We didn't hit-and-run and steal a lot at LSU," he said. "We relied on gorilla ball. The main thing is for me to try to see a lot of pitches and work the count deep. But if it's right there, I want to swing. That's what I'm used to doing."

"Mike is such a competitor he wants to hit every strike," said Voigt. "But some strikes are not good pitches to hit. He's learning the difference."

After signing late last summer, Fontenot received his first taste of the pros in the Florida Instructional League, where he soon discovered the Orioles' plans for him. Exposure to bunting was one of the primary lessons.

"He had to get the feel of the wooden bat and what the best pitches are to bunt," said Voigt. "He didn't really know about drags. But he's become a good bunter."

On defense, Fontenot requires a bit of polish and selectivity. "He's made some errors trying to force plays that weren't there," said the manager. "Like trying to turn double plays on a slow hit ball with a fast guy at the plate. But he's a fast learner."

Originally drafted 21st by Tampa Bay out of Slidell (La.) High, Fontenot dickered until the final day about signing then.

"The night before school I went home and decided to go back to school. It was pretty good change for 21st, but in my heart, I wanted to play for LSU," he said. "That was one of my dreams, like making the big leagues is."

Voigt believes he will realize the second dream "before too long as long as he continues to progress. He's very quietly intense. When he learns not to be too hard on himself and lose focus, he'll be even better because you like that kind of self-accountability."

"I have no timetable," Fontenot said. "Right now, I'm learning to play 140 games and trying to keep the mental toughness to go hard every day. We've played a whole college season already. I know to get up there, I've got to hit."

Triple-A Rochester

Josh Towers improved in his fourth start with the Red Wings, but sustained a 3-1 loss at Durham on Friday night. He allowed eight hits and three runs, one on a homer, in six innings. Towers continues to be hurt by the gopher ball overall, permitting six in 21 innings, en route to an 0-3 record and 4.71 ERA. ... The team's bullpen has been excellent during the past week. In 15 2/3 innings, relievers have been touched for just two runs and compiled a 1.11 ERA. This after a stretch in which opponents saddled the 'pen with a 2-5 record and 7.84 ERA. ... Pitching coach and ex-Oriole Grant Jackson has been selected to work with the International League squad at the Triple-A All-Star Game at Oklahoma City on July 10. ... Rochester has dropped eight of its past 10 road games and was 6-17 away from Frontier Field. A win Wednesday at Richmond broke a seven-game road losing streak. The team has not posted a winning road record since 1993. ... Howie Clark had a 13-game hitting streak halted Thursday. It was the longest by a Red Wing this season. He batted .426 during the streak and remained among the IL leaders in average and hits. ... Larry Bigbie (.400 through Saturday) came back hitting from his shoulder injury after making his first start in two weeks. He leads the league in batting. ... Mike Drumwright has had two strong outings since joining the team and recorded his first win at Richmond Thursday.

Double-A Bowie

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