Right-hander Joe Van Meter is having plenty of success through his first summer and fall in professional baseball.
A standout infielder at Virginia Commonwealth University, Van Meter ranked third in the nation in 2010 with 108 hits, ninth with a .434 batting average, and 22nd with 76 runs batted in. And despite logging only 23.1 innings on the mound with a 5.40 earned-run average, professional teams preferred him as a pitcher.
Teams liked Van Meter's arm because he featured a fastball that had reached the mid-90s––and higher at times––while playing in a collegiate wood bat league the previous summer.
The Rangers selected the 6-foot-2, 195-pound prospect in the 21st round of this year's MLB Draft and immediately made him a full-time pitcher. Van Meter reported to the rookie-level Surprise Rangers, where he yielded three earned runs in 9.2 innings, walking one and striking out 11.
While pitching in the rookie league, the Long Island native flashed strong stuff along with the ability to throw strikes. Van Meter pounded the zone with a 91-94 mph fastball (sitting at 93-94) with a mature mid-70s curveball.
After the Rookie Rangers season concluded, the club rewarded Van Meter with a late-season promotion to Single-A Hickory. The 22-year-old made three total appearances (two regular season, one postseason) with the Crawdads. He allowed one unearned run in 4.1 innings, giving up three hits, walking zero, and striking out three.
Van Meter took a short rest after the season before reporting to Fall Instructional League. As he mentions below, instructs was an important time for a relatively inexperienced hurler like himself to pick up on some of the nuances of pitching––pitch sequences, holding base runners, etc.
But Van Meter didn't just learn at instructs––he also performed well. The righty ended up winning the points system for pitchers (IF Oduber Herrera won the system for hitters) that rewards things such as first-pitch strikes, executing 1-1 pitches, and fielding of the position, among other things.
As a reward for winning the points system, the Rangers flew both Van Meter and Herrera to Arlington to attend games three and four of the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Lone Star Dugout caught up with Van Meter to discuss his time at instructs as well as his experiences with the big league club in Arlington.
Jason Cole: I interviewed you around the end of the regular season in Hickory, so tell me about Fall Instructional League. What were you able to get out of your month-long experience there?
Joe Van Meter: When I got to instructs, I didn't really know what to expect. My main goal was to just absorb as much information––from all the resources out there––as I could. I was up for trying new things and refining here and there. I just want the best for my career.
Overall, I thought I built a good foundation out there from a mental standpoint. I'm glad I spent that month out there, because I've learned a whole lot. Now I'm just enjoying my time off. I'm looking forward to cranking it back up here in November. I'm going to apply everything I learned at instructs into what I do in Spring Training.
Cole: Did you make any changes in terms of mechanics or pitches during instructs, or were you just refining what you already had?
Van Meter: It was mostly refining what I already have. But I was working on the little stuff that is going to make a big difference in terms of holding runners on. That was something I really worked on.
Also, talking to guys like Danny Clark and Mark Connor––they just know so much stuff. They're pretty much gurus in the true meaning of the word. I was able to pick their brain so much. There was certain mechanical stuff that they pointed out and it really made sense. That could help me with consistency.
Cole: You talked about holding runners on. Were you working on being faster to the plate? Learning a pickoff move?
Van Meter: It was both. It was a bunch of stuff––including being quick to the plate as well as learning a quick pickoff move. I also learned some good game situation stuff, like when guys are most likely to run.
I think I had a better clue––I got the most out of the meetings down there. That was probably the best part about instructs. I was having that school-type atmosphere, where you're in there with pencil and paper and writing everything down. It really helped me.
Also, another thing I really learned was the pitch sequence. We had meetings on pitch sequence and I got to know my strengths and what we're trying to do to hitters in certain situations––stuff like that.
Cole: You won the points system for pitchers at Fall Instructional League. Can you tell me about the points system and what goes into that? I know it's a lot deeper than simply getting points for throwing a scoreless inning.
Van Meter: Yeah, it's all about execution with the points system that they have out there. It's not so much the result––it's more about the process and how you got into certain counts.
For example, executing 1-1 counts is huge––being able to throw the next pitch for a strike. Getting guys out with fewer than five pitches. Putting up a zero when your team just put a big number on the board. With a runner in scoring position and less than two outs, being able to get the team off the field. Those are all things you can get points for. You get anywhere between one to five points, and you can also get negative points.
But I just went out there and tried to pitch my game. I wanted to work on stuff––I was more focused on the learning process rather than the results. I wasn't really result-oriented out there. You know what instructs is all about. That's pretty much the whole point system. They had one for the hitters and one for the pitchers. They told me that I'd won the pitching award.
Cole: As a reward for winning the points system, the team flew you to Arlington to watch the Rangers play the Rays in the ALDS. Did you get to attend both ALDS games in Texas?
Van Meter: Yeah, I was there for games three and four. Having the opportunity to go out there with the staff to Arlington for that weekend––and getting the behind-the-scenes access––it was a once-in-a-lifetime privilege.
It was my first playoff game to attend. I was excited the minute I got on the 4:00 a.m. bus to leave the Surprise complex and head over to the Phoenix airport that morning. It was just incredible, the whole experience. The only way I can really explain the environment at the ballpark was electric. From the stadium being a swarm of white towels to how loud the fans were during the player introductions and the jets flying over during the national anthem.
When you think about it, it's every kid's dream to play in October. And being close to all that was a really humbling experience. I'm very thankful to the organization for getting me out there and letting me be part of that.
Cole: The Rangers' developmental staff talks quite a bit about what it means to be a Ranger and having a winning mindset. How much does it help to go out there and witness what they're talking about first-hand?
Van Meter: It's just incredible to see those guys reach the playoff level. Because I know that most of them were in the same position as me and most of the guys that were at instructs.
It should be really motivating to look at those guys and say, ‘Hey, they were in the same spot––they worked hard, put in the work, and now they're there.' They are kind of role models, being on such a stage like that. I think a lot of us are closer than we think. Anything you put your mind to, you can accomplish, and those guys are good examples of that.
Van Meter learning the little things
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