Baseball players are a ritualistic species.
Wade Boggs choked down chicken before every game. Turk Wendell dodged foreboding white lines and cleansed his teeth of black licorice between innings pitched. And in order to break the curveball's curse, Major League's Pedro Cerrano sacrificed cigars and rum shots to a voodoo relic named Jobu.
Like most organizations, the Chicago Cubs are no strangers to humorous pregame superstitions.
In his five-year career with the North Siders, Mike Fontenot has been known more as Carlos Zambrano's pet Chihuahua than a reliable fantasy middle infielder. The subject of dugout piggyback rides and hammering exhibitions, the former LSU standout has provided plenty of comic relief but mediocre statistical contributions. However, that's about to change. Chicago's scruffy-faced sprite is on the verge of becoming mixed league relevant.
On March 14, Fontenot was named the Cubs' opening day second basemen, beating out hitting lightweight Aaron Miles. Although he's expected to accumulate a minimum of 350 at-bats in an offensively potent lineup, few shallow leaguers have sprinted to the wire to acquire the two-bagger's services. As of Monday, he was available in a whopping 84 percent of Yahoo! Plus leagues. More astonishing, the quick-wristed infielder was going after pick 300 in drafts conducted last week on Mock Draft Central.
Seriously, unless you play in a knuckle-dragger league where Felipe Lopez is sipping pina coladas in the free agent pool, Fontenot should be rostered. Take a look at the portfolio parallel below:
Player X: 479 at-bats, .290 BA, 12 HR, 69 RBI, 78 R, 7 SB
Player Y: 597 at-bats, .271 BA, 14 HR, 72 RBI, 70 R, 2 SB
X is Fontenot's career line, while Y is Robinson Cano's effort from last season. The Yankees' rollercoaster ride compiled arguably his worst season last year, but is still being selected roughly 245 picks before Fontenot. Sure, Cano is more established and will receive more at-bats, but if the trends hold true, the difference between the two could be smaller than you might think.
Looking at Fontenot's peripherals under a microscope, his resume is rock solid. Keen-eyed (10.8 career BB%) and contact-heavy (81.1 CT%), he's started to lay off outside pitches with more regularity, lining shots to all fields (24.1 LD% in '08). More importantly, his 12.3 HR/FB percentage, the fifth-best mark among second basemen last season, is a positive sign of power development.
Based on his increased discipline and expected RBI-friendly sixth-spot in the order, a top-15 second base finish is possible even with only 350-400 at-bats. If anything, he'll be a very serviceable middle infielder in deeper mixed leagues. Naturally, he will cede playing time to Miles against lefties, but when in the lineup, batting behind Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Geovany Soto is conducive for yielding appreciable dividends. Also, don't be surprised if he logs occasional time in the two-hole.
Of course, Fontenot's rumored tryst this past offseason with Megan Fox was complete lampoonery, but a standout season at a normally deprived fantasy position should attract the attention of the brunette bombshell, and mixed league owners too.
And that's no joke.
Fearless Forecast: 404 at-bats, .289 BA, 13 HR, 66 RBI, 70 R, 5 SB
Image courtesy of the Chicago Tribune