Padres Prospect Josh VanMeter Hoping for Homecoming
February 12, 2014
By Pete Cava
PBR Indiana Correspondent
Josh VanMeter’s professional debut in 2013 had San Diego Padres officials grinning like Mona Lisas in baseball caps.
After San Diego drafted him in the fifth round last June, the left-handed hitting middle infielder batted .278 for the Padres’ rookie-level Arizona League farm club.
San Diego instructors raved about VanMeter’s soft hands and savvy, and Baseball America rated him among the top Padres prospects.
On February 18, he’ll head to the club’s annual spring training mini-camp in Peoria, Ariz. – an invitation reserved for San Diego’s most promising farmhands.
So why does VanMeter want to be back in Northwest Indiana this summer, living with his parents, Greg and Amy?
“It’s the ideal situation,” said Josh, who’d like to open the year with San Diego’s low Class A affiliate, the Fort Wayne TinCaps of the Midwest League. “That’d be a good step for me. I’ve been told I have a pretty good shot. I would probably live at home, just because of the financial part of it. I’d save a lot of money.”
VanMeter, a Fort Wayne native who turns 19 in March, figures he’d get plenty of support from TinCaps rooters. “That’d be cool to play there,” he said. “There’d be a lot of people rooting me on.”
Fans in Ossian, Indiana – about ten miles south of Fort Wayne – got behind VanMeter last year when he helped Norwell High School to a state title. He averaged .450 with nine home runs as a shortstop and compiled a 14-1 record as a pitcher.
His win total eclipsed Norwell’s single-season record of 12, set in 2007 by Jarrod Parker, currently with the Oakland Athletics.
VanMeter scored both runs and tossed a three-hitter as Norwell topped Jasper 2-1 in the IHSAA Class 3A championship game. “He's a baseball kid and I'm a baseball guy,” said Andy McClain, Norwell’s coach. “I think the world of him, because of his heart and his competitiveness.”
Three days later, VanMeter turned down a college scholarship from Illinois State to embark on a baseball career. “No regrets at all,” he said. “I just felt like I couldn’t pass up what was right in front of me.”
The transition from high school to the pro ranks was no snap. “It was a shock, to be honest,” said VanMeter. “The pitchers are just so much more advanced from anything I’d ever seen. Guys throw harder, off-speed is better, they can locate better. During our high school season, I saw guys that threw 90 maybe once or twice. You get out there, and it’s 90-plus just about every day.
“Not only that, the game is much, much faster. Balls are hit harder, guys runs faster. There’s a lot of pressure to go out and compete at the highest level every day. The first two weeks was kind of a struggle. I was in awe of where I was, still trying to figure things out.”
VanMeter quickly made adjustments, finally hitting his stride about a month into the campaign. “From there on out, I had a really productive summer,” he said. “Not only was I happy with my performance, but the Padres were happy with my performance. And at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.”
Josh divided the year between shortstop and second base. “That was a big transition,” he said. “I think I’m more comfortable at short, just because it’s more of a natural position for me. But all in all, I’m pretty comfortable at both spots.”
VanMeter admits that he missed pitching. He said his Arizona League skipper, Michael Collins (who’ll manage Fort Wayne this year) nixed his offers to take the hill during blow-out contests. “There were times when we’d be down like 10-0,” he said. “I’d joke with [Collins] and say, ‘Hey coach, put me in the game!’ He’d say, ‘If I put you in, I’d lose my job!’”
Impressed by VanMeter’s makeup and athleticism, the San Diego front office sent him to the Dominican Republic after the season. Josh was one of about 50 Padres first- and second-year players singled out for individual tutoring.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “There was a little bit more one-on-one instruction than there was over the summer. Their focus for me was pretty much on baserunning and defensive work. A lot of it was on my fielding at second base.”
VanMeter quickly learned that life in the Dominican was very different from the United States. “We’re like, ‘It’s humid every day, the food isn’t any good, there’s nothing to do!’” he recalled. “We didn’t have TV, we didn’t really have anything. The only thing that saved us was a beach about a mile down the road that we walked to just about every day.”
During the 24-day stay in the Dominican, VanMeter and the other San Diego farmhands were called on to perform community service. Working with local school children, said Josh, was “just a very humbling experience. We got to see where some of our Latin teammates grow up, how they live. Their only way out is baseball. Seeing that, I would say we’re very fortunate to grow up in America.”
VanMeter leaves for spring training on February 18. Listed as 5-foot-11, 170 pounds last year, he’s now 6-foot, 180… even though he’s added 20 pounds since his high school days.
“That ‘170’ was pushing it a little bit,” Josh confessed. “When I graduated, I was more like 160. But over the winter, I put on 20 pounds.