Josh VanMeter might be on a short journey to the TinCaps, but it's far from a straight route.
VanMeter, the Norwell High School shortstop who was picked in the fifth round by the San Diego Padres last spring, spent the summer in the Arizona rookie league and is headed for a fall in the Dominican Republic.
He was scheduled on an early flight Tuesday to be part of about 50 Padres minor leaguers working in the Dominican instructional league.
“It's mainly for a lot of young guys in their first or second year and guys they see as the future of the organization,” VanMeter said. “It's very hand-selected, a few guys they handpick trying to make you better. The first and second year can be the hardest years for guys coming out of high school; it's a big transition.”
VanMeter testifies to the challenge of the transition. After leading Norwell to a 33-3 record and Class 3A state championship late this spring, VanMeter started his pro career three days later. He played 44 games for the AZL Padres, primarily at shortstop, and hit .278 with seven doubles, two triples, 16 RBIs and 10 stolen bases.
While VanMeter was accustomed to playing 70-80 games with high school and summer ball, the level of play was a step up, as expected.
“Honestly, the speed of the game was the biggest adjustment, especially when it came to hitting,” VanMeter said. “You have pitchers throwing 93 to 95 mph every day. In Indiana high school, rarely do guys throw in the high 80s. At Norwell, we were fortunate to have two of those guys in me and Jonah (Patten), but you don't see it a lot on other teams. To go from high school to that in less than a week was a big adjustment.”
There was a difference in the field, too, VanMeter said. He alternated between playing shortstop and second base early on. But he settled in at shortstop most of the team as the season progressed and another shortstop was injured.
“Everyone hits the ball hard, whether it's on the ground or in the air,” VanMeter said. “Every ball is barreled up. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of reps, to get everything down, but once you've got it figured out, it gets better. Baseball has its ups and downs, but I played better as I got it figured out.”
VanMeter hit first, second and ninth in the batting order as he began his time with the Padres, but settled into the second spot in the order during the latter half of the season.
Brandon Alger, a pitcher out of Leo and Indiana Tech, will also be part of the Padres' contingent in the Dominican Republic. Players will be in the instructional league until returning Oct. 18, when they'll work out on their own until spring.
VanMeter doesn't know whether he'll start the 2014 season with the Class A TinCaps, but it is a possibility.
Wherever he plays, he says he'll continue to savor the chance to make a living in the sport.
“The baseball season is a grind in itself, anybody will tell you that, but when it is your job, it's a lot of fun,” VanMeter said. “Ask any adult anywhere if he'd rather be doing this than a regular job. I think you'd get a pretty consensus yes.”