Norwell High School senior Josh VanMeter's professional baseball career could be starting at a very familiar field.
VanMeter was picked by the San Diego Padres in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball draft, No.148 overall, Friday afternoon. The Padres, of course, are the parent club of the Class A Fort Wayne TinCaps.
“We talked about it ever since the Padres started coming around,” VanMeter said. “How awesome would it be to get drafted by them and eventually play in Fort Wayne? It's indescribable. I'm so thrilled and so excited.
“It's definitely a dream come true,” VanMeter said. “It's just amazing. I've always dreamed of being drafted in the Top 5 rounds and it's coming true.”
VanMeter, who plays shortstop and pitcher for Norwell's semistate-bound team, would be the first local everyday position player to play for the TinCaps if he is eventually assigned to the team. Leo's Brandon Alger pitched briefly for the TinCaps, along with Bryan, Ohio native Matt Wisler and current pitcher Justin Hancock is from nearby Defiance, Ohio.
“We're extremely excited here,” TinCaps president Mike Nutter said. “This is really cool. ...Assuming he signs and comes here, the fans are going to see him a lot.”
VanMeter has committed to play for Illinois State University, but will likely sign a deal with the Padres and begin his professional career. Most high school players drafted that high pursue the immediate pro career because of the contract and opportunity.
Norwell (31-3) will play Western in the Class 3A semistate at 1 p.m. Saturday in Highland Park, Kokomo.
VanMeter cannot sign a contract with the Padres until his high school season ends, and he hopes that is next weekend at the state finals in Indianapolis. But once his prep career is over, and he signs with the Padres, he will likely be sent to the Arizona League rookie level. Eugene is the next step up, followed by Fort Wayne.
VanMeter is hitting .444 with nine home runs, 36 RBIs, 55 runs scored and a slugging percentage of .843. He is 12-1 on the mound with 98 strikeouts in 68.1 innings.
Coach Andy McClain, in his first year at Norwell after nine at Indianapolis Brebeuf, has high praise for VanMeter's skills.
“I was telling the little kids at camp that Josh is the best baseball player I've ever coached,” McClain said. “I've been coaching 24 years and I got to coach Scott Rolen (seven-time Major League All-Star from Jasper) when he was in a high school all-star game when I first started. Scott's very talented, but Josh is right there him.”
The Padres drafted him as a shortstop, but some scouts have speculated he could be converted to a second baseman. VanMeter is naturally open to whatever path leads to the majors.
VanMeter said he remembers as a younger player looking up to Jarrod Parker. Parker pitched for Norwell, led the team to the 2007 Class 3A state title, was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks and now pitches for the Oakland A's.
Now a pro career seems like a reality to VanMeter, too.
“It's definitely awesome to happen the day before semistate,” VanMeter said. “I have to regain my focus for tomorrow. That's one goal for me checked off. The other goal is to win a state championship for Norwell.”