Lake Elsinore, CA -- The 2016 season has featured several players in the Padres’ system defy expectations and perform at a high level few thought possible. Pitcher Michael Kelly went from a possible release candidate to being in the discussion for a coveted 40-man roster spot. Centerfielder Franchy Cordero has harnessed his immense talent and had a nice first-half for Lake Elsinore, earning a promotion to San Antonio.
Josh VanMeter certainly falls into that category, as the 21-year-old infielder is performing at the highest level of his professional career. VanMeter hit just three home runs as a professional -- all in 2014 -- coming into the 2016 season. In 2016, VanMeter already has 12 home runs this season to lead the Lake Elsinore Storm. The improved performance led to VanMeter being selected for the California League All-Star team -- his first all-star selection as a professional. VanMeter talked to MadFriars shortly before performing in the California vs. Carolina All-Star game.
MadFriars: You have already set a career-high in home runs at the All-Star break. What has been the biggest difference for you?
Josh VanMeter: For me, not missing fastballs in hitters counts has been the biggest difference. Also, laying off of pitcher’s pitches in order to get in those hitter’s counts. I’ve placed a focus on not missing those hittable pitches. Granted, your gonna miss one every now and then but you can’t miss those a lot if you want to be a good hitter. For me, it’s swinging at good, hittable pitches and avoiding those pitcher’s pitches. You get three strikes for a reason, I can let those good pitcher’s pitches go early in the count and look for fastballs.
Has (Storm hitting coach) Xavier Nady reworked your swing or mechanics in any way?
Josh VanMeter: For me and Xavier, it’s more about a mental approach to hitting. From a mechanical standpoint, there isn’t a whole lot to do to with my swing -- my swing is pretty simple. From a mental standpoint, it’s really about staying on fastball timing and adjusting to off-speed.
On my two-strike approach, I have worked on not looking for that for tough pitch in the dirt to lay off of; now I am looking for a mistake in the zone to hit. If the pitcher throws a great off-speed pitch down in the zone, I am in a better position to lay off it. This season I am mentally focused each day when I do my work in the hitting cage and I am bringing a more relaxed approach to each game.
Was making the All-Star game a preseason goal, or is it more about doing the work, getting the results and moving through the system?
Josh VanMeter: I think making the all-star team and having good numbers kind of go together. When you get selected to an all-star team, it means you had great numbers in the first half. Granted, there’s still another half of the season that you need to perform in and keep the same intensity, the same approach and same focus day in and day out. I think that everyone should come into the saying wanting to make the all-star team because it normally means you played well in the first half. I’d say my goal was to make the All-Star game at the beginning of the season.
You’ve played all over the infield this season. Is there one position you feel comfortable at? Or is just more about doing whatever it takes to get to the big leagues?
Josh VanMeter: It’s really whatever gets you to the big leagues faster. For me, the more versatile you can me on the field, the more value you have. This is my first year playing third base. I struggled a little bit at the beginning of the year but I am starting to feel more comfortable now and I really like it over there. I wouldn’t say that is going to be my home as a player but the more places you can play and the more places you can be comfortable the better it is.
After last year with the leg injury, is the year you are having give you validation for all of the work you put in?
Josh VanMeter: Yeah, one-hundred percent. Last year, I made it a goal to get back to Fort Wayne at the end of the year. Even when I got back, I don’t think I should have been playing -- I don’t think I was healthy enough to play. Coming out here and having a strong first half shows the all of the hard work that I did in the off-season was worth it. I just need to keep it up and stay healthy.
Plus you wanted to make it back to Fort Wayne in time for your bobblehead day.
Josh VanMeter: (laughs) Yeah. That was a really cool event and it is something special that I will always remember.
Did you feel a lot of extra pressure playing in your hometown?
Josh VanMeter: It was definitely a big deal. The last game I played in high school was a state championship game and then I got drafted and immediately came back as a pro. Everyone expects you to hit .400 again and be the best player on the field -- well it isn’t high school anymore and all of these guys are professionals. I think I put a lot of pressure on myself but it made me into a better player and a better man.