Van Meter earns surprise promotion

After starring as one of college baseball's top hitters this year, 21st-round selection Joe Van Meter is proving to be an intriguing relief prospect for the Rangers. Lone Star Dugout recently caught up with the former two-way standout.

Relief pitcher Joe Van Meter recently became the Texas Rangers' second 2010 draft pick to reach a full-season level when the club promoted him to Single-A Hickory.

The 21-year-old has done so without swinging the bat a single time this summer.

Van Meter, the Rangers' 21st-round pick, had a standout 2010 campaign as an infielder at Virginia Commonwealth University. He ranked third in the nation with 108 hits, ninth with a .434 batting average, and 22nd with 76 runs batted in.

On the mound, he logged only 23.1 innings for the Rams, posting a 5.40 earned-run average.

Despite the outstanding results with the bat, most teams––including the Rangers––preferred his strong arm. Van Meter features a fastball that had touched the mid-90s––and higher at times––while playing in a collegiate wood bat league the previous summer.

Van Meter reported to the rookie-level Surprise Rangers upon signing his first professional contract. After a shaky debut outing, he was placed on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis.

The hurler returned to action a month later at full health, and it showed in the results. He surrendered just one run in eight innings, giving up five hits, walking zero, and striking out 11.

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound prospect pounded the strike zone with a 91-94 mph fastball (hitting 93-94 with frequency) and flashed a promising 76-ish mph curveball. His fresh arm, good stuff, and strong results led to a promotion the day after the rookie club was eliminated from the Arizona League playoffs.

As Van Meter explains below, he was able to finish the Crawdads' playoff-clinching game on the mound. The results have remained solid since the promotion to Single-A––in three outings, he has yet to permit an earned run in 4.1 innings while walking none and striking out three.

Lone Star Dugout recently caught up with the Long Island native, who will be attending Fall Instructional League shortly after the Crawdads' playoff run concludes.

Jason Cole: What are your thoughts on your first summer in pro ball, both in Arizona and Hickory?

Joe Van Meter: I feel this summer has been very productive. I got acclimated pretty easily to the professional lifestyle. I've been around great pitching coaches––just great coaches in general and great teammates that I've learned a lot from. We're always talking pitching and what-not. Truly, I'm just trying to be a sponge in that kind of environment. I think I've really learned a lot about the game and a lot about pitching.

I've been fortunate enough to be on two teams that are really close and like to go out every day and have a good time. Two teams that have really been a cohesive bunch. In Arizona, we had a great run up to the playoffs. It was unfortunate that we lost, but we all played well together.

Obviously having the opportunity to come here, my emotions were on a roller coaster. The next day after we lost in the semifinals, I was kind of down. It was a close game and we kind of gave it away there in the eighth. But I got the call from Jake Krug telling me that I got promoted to Hickory and that they could use my help. I just couldn't believe it. Sure enough, a couple hours later, I'm on a flight at 4:00 in the morning going back to the east coast and getting the opportunity to play for two more weeks and possibly win a ring.

To be honest with you, I got here and I was on three hours of sleep. I was real excited to get out here after getting promoted. In the situation that they were in, they need a couple things to happen. They needed Greensboro to lose and Lakewood to win, and both those things happened. And we happened to win.

I would never think that I would pitch the first night, but they actually threw me in there and I did pretty well. I closed the game out. It was kind of weird because, in the middle of the game, I found out that we had clinched. But I didn't know how it was going to mesh in with the team and stuff. I didn't know how these guys would be celebrating afterward. But I got my feet wet and was able to contribute in that win. After that, I felt like part of the team.

This team has truly taken me in with open arms. I'm thankful for that––for them to give me the ball that first night. They didn't have to do that. But this team here in Hickory––these guys are great guys and there are some really funny characters on this team. I've only been here for a week and already I feel like I've been here for awhile. Everybody has really embraced me and I have a lot of friends on the team now. These guys just really like to go out and take care of business and have a good time doing it.

I'm looking forward to this playoff run because stats are out the door now. Bill Richardson, our manager, said it's all about playing like a team and really playing for each other, because it's not as much of an individual mindset in the playoffs. You've got to play team baseball to win games, and the teams that are most relaxed and execute are the ones that win. I just have a good feeling about the run we're going to make here for the next two weeks.

Cole: Hickory is a few hours away from Richmond, where you live. And now you're going up to Lakewood, which is fairly close to Long Island, where you grew up. After a summer in Arizona, how nice is it to be playing close to family and friends again?

Van Meter: It's great. I've had a pretty big following of family and friends through college. Obviously playing the summer in Arizona, they didn't have a chance to see me play all summer. I think it's great that my parents and a lot of my friends and other family will get to see me play for the first time professionally. I know they're really excited to see that. I'm looking forward to that. Hopefully we only have to play one game up in Lakewood and we can take care of game one tomorrow.

Cole: You made one appearance early in the Arizona League season and then sat out for a month. Were you injured or just working on the side?

Van Meter: Yeah, I was out for about a month. I was just trying to rush results. Me being new to the whole pitching and throwing program––and just that routine of every day throwing. My arm just really wasn't used to that. I hadn't really been long-tossing. What happened was that I tried to rush results––I tried to get my arm as strong and conditioned as fast as I can.

I went about it too quickly. In this game, you've really got to take it day-by-day and results will happen on their own. You can't rush anything. You have to give things time. You can't just go out there and sprint––you have to stretch before you sprint.

I learned that the hard way, and I developed some biceps tendinitis. The trainers shut me down from throwing for a month, which made the biggest difference in the world. I was able to get rid of the inflammation for two weeks. The in the next week or two, I went about the throwing program and getting my arm ready for the rest of the season the right way. Everything happens for a reason and you learn from it. My arm is feeling 10 times better than it did when I had that biceps tendinitis.

Cole: Tell me about getting adjusted to pitching full-time. What are some of the challenges you have faced and what are some of the things you like about it?

Van Meter: The best thing about pitching in the role I'm in is the fact that I have an opportunity of going out there every night and pitching an inning or two. And I have the opportunity to perform when the game is on the line. I like the accountability factor. I like the fact that, from the seventh to the ninth inning, every pitch is important. Every pitch is important through the whole game, but usually you have the close late-inning situations.

I just like the competitive side of relieving. I'm ready every day rather than having to wait a whole week as a starter. Say you have a bad outing––then you have to wait five days. I like having a short-term memory and being able to go out and redeem myself the next day or being able to repeat a good outing. That's the thing I like most about it. I'm enjoying the role that I'm in now. I'm enjoying pitching.

Cole: What has been your main focus on the mound this summer?

Van Meter: I've been told by the pitching coaches––like Brad Holman here––that they like my delivery and they like my stuff. But obviously in this pitching thing, you can always refine your mechanics and you can always work on different things to give you an edge to make your trip to the big leagues faster.

One of the things that I've tried to work on is cutting down my time on my slide-step to home plate. Another thing is the consistency with my breaking ball. It's night-and-day––I kind of lost the feel for it when I first got to Arizona. And then I kept working hard and thinking about getting out in front and working with Ryan O'Malley and Oscar Bernard, the pitching coaches in Arizona.

We just worked hard on refining my pitches and refining my mechanics to make me a more well-rounded pitcher. What I try to do is take each day to work on something rather than try to work on different things at one time. I just try to take it day-by-day and work on one thing at a time.

Cole: Talk about your mindset as you came into Arizona. You had pitched some in the past but had never focused on it completely. What were your thoughts coming into it?

Van Meter: It has been great. My feelings were mixed because having to put the bat back in the closet––I didn't know how I was going to feel and react. But once this pitching thing started becoming business, it changed the way I go about my daily routine. I'm just excited to be out there and only focusing on one thing rather than both.

Cole: You're going to be attending Fall Instructional League in a couple weeks. What are you looking forward to improving upon out there at instructs?

Van Meter: My goal when I go out there––I'm not going to school anymore, so this is my school. I'm going to approach it like I'm going to a business school or anything like that. I'm going to try and take in as much information as I can. I'm going to take a bunch of notes like a student would. For that month I'm going to be there, I'm going to be around guys that played in the big leagues and guys that have a wealth of knowledge. I'm excited to be around guys like that every day.

Some of the things that I want to improve upon are obviously the consistency of my breaking ball and my slide-step. And more so, the biggest thing I want to work on, is knowing my strengths. These guys have seen me throw, so I think they have a pretty good idea of what I've got.

I want to get more information and put myself in the big-game situation––second and third, no outs or bases loaded, no outs––just certain situations late in the game. I want to have a better plan pitch-by-pitch, like what I should throw in those situations.

Having swung a bat my whole life, I've looked at lots of video clips of hitting, and I feel like I have a better perspective on reading a hitter's swing. So I just want to find out how I can best put my stuff against the hitter in those kind of situations. I have a very good idea, but I want to know what pitches I have that will work best against those guys in tough situations.

Cole: You've only been in pro ball for a short amount of time, but how far do you feel you have come as a pitcher since this past collegiate season?

Van Meter: I've come a long way. A lot of people think that, with me being a position player and having to transition into a full-time pitching role, most guys that do that are raw. But it has been a very fluid transition. That's the feedback I've been getting.

I had a rough year this year. I had high expectations, pitching in college. But I definitely have come a long way. I'm in a relief role, and in college when I really went wrong, I was in a starting role for two outings. I just wasn't prepared for that. Our Friday night guy got hurt, so I stepped in to start two or three times, and I really wasn't prepared for that.

I like to think of myself as a sprinter and not a cross-country runner. But now, being a late-inning relief guy, I feel more confident and I feel like I have more control of the situation and more control of the whole attack to pitching in general.

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