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Astros seal deal with second-round pick Fontana

HOUSTON -- Nolan Fontana always wanted to walk in the same shoes as his grandfather, two-time All-Star pitcher Lew Burdette, and become a pitcher in the Major Leagues. And wouldn't it have been fitting for a guy named after Nolan Ryan to get that chance?

Fontana quit growing, dashing his dreams of getting on the mound, but his dream of playing baseball at the highest level never diminished. Fontana took a major step toward that goal Tuesday, when he signed with the Astros.

Fontana, Houston's second-round Draft pick out of the University of Florida, will skip the team's short-season affiliates and report to Class A Lexington next week. The Astros signed Fontana to an $875,000 bonus, according to a baseball source. The assigned slot value of the No. 61 overall pick is $844,100.

"Saying I'm excited would be an understatement right now," Fontana said. "After this weekend, I'll be able to get right after it and I'm looking forward to it."

The Astros are getting a more polished player than Carlos Correa, a shortstop from Puerto Rico taken with the No. 1 overall pick. Fontana, a left-handed hitter, played three years at Florida and this season hit .284 with 10 doubles, nine home runs, 30 RBIs and a .406 on-base percentage in 66 games that culminated with a College World Series berth.

"For us, he represents everything we're going to be looking for in the future, a player that excels defensively at a premium position and has proven his capabilities offensively as well," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "He's a proven performer from the college ranks. Our feeling is Nolan is going to move fairly quickly through the system, and obviously we're going to give him ample opportunity to get enough at-bats."

Fontana, 21, was born in Richardson, Texas, but spent the majority of his life growing up in the Orlando, Fla., area. His parents were Rangers fans and named their son after the Hall of Fame pitcher of the Astros and the Rangers.

"We're so proud of Nolan," his father, Paul Fontana said. "He has become a real quality person and a great young man, and he's a fantastic baseball player, but he's a better person than he is a baseball player. I couldn't be more proud of him today. He's earned everything he's gotten today."

Fontana's maternal grandfather is Burdette, a pitcher who won 203 games in an 18-year Major League career during which he spent 13 years with the Boston and Milwaukee Braves. Burdette was named to a pair of All-Star teams and was the World Series Most Valuable Player in 1957. He died in 2007 at 80 years old.

"Nolan had quite an experience because his grandfather lived with us towards the end of his life, and Nolan and his grandfather were extremely close," Paul Fontana said.

Nolan Fontana said he cherished the time with his grandfather.

"Every night was a different story, and he taught me so much about the game," he said. "He's with me every day when I'm playing."

With Fontana in the fold, the Astros just have one remaining unsigned player from the top 10 rounds -- Fontana's Florida teammate Preston Tucker, an outfielder taken in the seventh round. The Astros have signed 30 of their 41 picks, including 19 players selected in the first 21 rounds.

Houston signed Correa to a $4.8 million bonus within hours after he was drafted, and on Monday the club signed fourth-round pick Rio Ruiz, a high school shortstop from La Puente, Calif., for $1.85 million. Pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., taken No. 41 overall out of Tampa, Fla., was signed earlier this month for $2.5 million.

Houston signed Correa for $2.4 million less than the prescribed bonus of $7.2 million for the top pick. The money the Astros saved enabled them to pay more to McCullers and Ruiz and lure them away from their college commitments.

"We feel like we're in pretty good shape," Luhnow said. "We talked about this, but one of the real benefits about the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is getting players signed and out quickly. The fact that we're pretty much done on deadline night [July 13], [assistant general manager/director of scouting] Bobby [Heck] and I can go and get a cheese steak and relax, and that's nice."

Houston Astros