Norwell alum Josh VanMeter one step away from realizing major league goal

Louisville Bats left fielder Josh VanMeter swings at a pitch during a game against the Indianapolis Indians on Monday at Victory Field, Indianapolis. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
Josh VanMeter at Victory Field in Indianapolis before suiting up to play for the Louisville Bats on Monday. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
Josh VanMeter prepares to step to the plate against for the Louisville Bats against the Indianapolis Indians on Monday at Victory Field, Indianapolis. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
Josh VanMeter throws home in the Louisville Bats' game at Indianapolis on Monday. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)
Josh VanMeter, center, looks on with teammates during the Louisville Bats' game at Indianapolis on Monday. (Photo by Reggie Hayes of news-sentinel.com)

INDIANAPOLIS – Josh VanMeter owes his mother and his sister a trip to the beach.

The family had planned a vacation in Pensacola, Fla., to watch VanMeter play baseball for the Class AA Blue Wahoos in a 10-game home stand and also to catch some rays. About a week before the trip, he was promoted to the Class AAA Louisville Bats.

Louisville is a great city. Not so many beaches.

“I called my mom (Amy) and said, ‘You don’t get to go to the beach,’ ” VanMeter said, then laughed. “They had to ax those plans.”

The silver lining, of course, is VanMeter’s promotion put him one step closer to his lifelong dream of playing Major League Baseball. Louisville is the highest minor league team for the Cincinnati Reds.

“It’s exciting and a new challenge,” VanMeter said. “I’m kind of at my best when I’m presented with a new challenge. Being a little closer to home helps, too. I’m excited for this new step in the journey. I’m still trying to get to the top.”

VanMeter, 23, is in his fifth full season of professional baseball after being drafted in the fifth round by the San Diego Padres out of Norwell High School. After being drafted in early June 2013, he led Norwell to the Class 3A state championship at Victory Field, Indianapolis.

He returned to Victory Field for the first time in five years when he played left field for Louisville in a Monday night game against the Indianapolis Indians. He went 1-for-4 with a single in a 3-2 loss. The teams play day games today, Wednesday and Thursday.

“The field looks a lot bigger when you’re in high school,” VanMeter said.

His return trip coincides with the closest he has been, in terms of minor-league levels, to the major leagues.

In a February interview with News-Sentinel.com, VanMeter talked about the small difference between Double- or Triple-A baseball in terms of reaching the majors. It’s possible for a player to make the leap from either level. VanMeter was traded to the Reds organization after the 2016 season.

VanMeter has heard from a number of friends since his promotion.

“My dad (Greg) said there’s something about Triple-A that people get hung up on,” VanMeter said. “It’s one step away and a lot more people know about Triple-A baseball. It’s exciting for people who don’t know the inner workings of minor league baseball. You can go from Double-A to the majors. But it’s cool, hearing from a lot of people who have followed my career all the way along.”

Roaming in the field

Since joining the Reds organization, VanMeter has increased his versatility. When he first began his professional career – including significant time with the Fort Wayne TinCaps – he played primarily middle infield.

Over the last year, he has played second base, shortstop, third base and left field.

He had not played in the outfield since he was a young player but he has made significant progress at the position. He has played primarily left field for Louisville.

“He’s gotten better,” Louisville manager Dick Schofield said. “Supposedly left is the hardest outfield position because there are so many righties hooking on you. He’s done well. I know he wants to play second, short or third, but the more positions you can play and swinging left-handed, it just gives you more opportunities.”

VanMeter continues to get more comfortable in left field, especially in terms of having outfielder instincts. One of the challenges is in recognizing how close he is to the outfield wall.

“It’s about learning reads off the bat, getting enough reps to be comfortable out there,” he said. “Being able to take a chance at a ball, whether to dive or go after a line drive, that’s something that takes getting used do. My reads are getting better.”

Schofield worked as bench coach with Pensacola last season, so he already had a coach-player relationship with VanMeter before VanMeter was promoted. That helped with the transition, VanMeter said.

Quality at-bats

VanMeter is 6-for-26 (.231) with two doubles, a home run and three runs batted in in 11 games for Louisville. He has six walks and his on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) is .798, which is indicative of the quality at-bats he is producing.

VanMeter points to the approach at the plate as one of his top areas of improvement.

“Trying to put together the most competitive at-bats has been my thing this year,” he said. “It’s not always about getting a hit. It’s getting a walk or moving a runner or putting together an eight- or nine- or 10-pitch at-bat. Taking pride in those small things and having quality at-bats has been a big thing for me.”

Schofield responded to a question about VanMeter’s strengths in his game by referencing his increasing skills at the plate.

“His bat for sure – and being able to literally play all the positions except for catcher,” Schofield said. “The more places you can play and be a left-handed hitter is a huge plus.”

VanMeter thought he had a strong-enough 2017 season and spring training to earn a first-day assignment to Louisville, but when he was sent to Pensacola again, he simply went to work. He was hitting .284 (.841 OPS) with 10 doubles and a homer in 30 games with Pensacola.

“It’s always about making adjustments,” VanMeter said. “That’s the game of baseball at the highest level. Who can make the adjustments quicker? It’s the same game everywhere you go, but it gets a little more precise, a little more in-depth. The attention to detail at the higher levels – you have to make adjustments pitch to pitch rather than at-bat to at-bat.”

One lesson VanMeter takes everywhere he plays is not to get too up or too down in a specific game, or to worry about the level of competition.

“At the end of the day, it’s the same game,” VanMeter said. “When guys get in trouble is when they come up and try to press or do too much instead of sticking to your game and doing what got you here.”

VanMeter’s parents, grandparents, sister Carlie and a few of his Norwell friends made the trip to see him play in Indianapolis on Monday. After this series, VanMeter’s family plans to spend next week watching him in Louisville.

With VanMeter this close to the majors, the beach can wait.


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