Josh VanMeter Perseveres through Frustrating Season

Josh VanMeter

A nightmarish 2021 season for the Arizona Diamondbacks has worn on everyone connected to the team. Fans are fed up. The coaching staff has lost hair and sleep. Whatever hair is left is rapidly turning grey. The players keep working their tails off but aren’t getting the results they want — or expect — on the field. One of those players is infielder Josh VanMeter.

VanMeter — a third-year player who is barely into his second year of service — came to the Diamondbacks in a 2020 deadline-day deal. He, along with outfielder Stuart Fairchild, arrived from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for popular reliever Archie Bradley. It was the second trade of his career. The first came in 2016, when the San Diego Padres — who drafted VanMeter in 2013 — sent him to the Reds for catcher Luis Torrens. Being traded is “a bittersweet feeling,” in his words. “The relationships you build within that team, the friendships you make, the staff, you get to know everybody, there’s a comfort in that. When I got traded the first time, I was still pretty young, and it was kind of a culture shock. But on the other end of that, it means somebody wants you.”

This is an important distinction to remember. There are many who see trades as a team getting rid of a player because they didn’t want him anymore. While that is sometimes true, it is always true that the team getting a player in a trade wanted him. The Reds wanted him, and they groomed him in the minors until he made his major league debut in 2019.

Josh VanMeter Debuts Close to Home, Later Gets Traded Again

Josh VanMeter hails from Ossian, Indiana, so debuting in Cincinnati made for a roughly three-hour drive for his parents to watch him play. VanMeter played 95 games for the Reds in 2019, batting .237/.327/.408 (54-for-228) with 13 doubles, a triple, eight homers, 23 RBI, 33 runs scored, and a .316 wOBA. He yo-yoed between Cincinnati and the AAA Louisville Bats, switching teams five times over the course of the season. When 2020 finally began, he played 14 games over a span of a month before heading to the Reds’ alternate site. On August 31, he went to Arizona.

That trade felt a little different than the first one, since he debuted with the Reds and also had good relationships with people in the organization. However, “it was bittersweet as well. I also came here nervous. You’re nervous anytime you go somewhere new, and maybe a little bit uncomfortable. But at the end of the day, baseball is a business. So I’m just trying to go out there and play my butt off every night,” he said.

The Diamondbacks called him up on September 10, and he played 12 games over the rest of the shortened season. In that span, he slashed .194/.293/.333 (7-for-36) with two doubles, a home run, six runs scored, and a .281 wOBA. He was on the 2021 Opening Day roster and had a decent start, slashing .294/.400/.471 (5-for-17) over the first 10 days of the season, but he went cold after that. He did have a memorable game-tying home run in the top of the ninth in Cincinnati — a game the Diamondbacks ultimately won, 8–5 — but he still saw his batting numbers plummet.

Back to the Minors

By May 22, his slash line had fallen to .159/.280/.261 (11-for-69) with two doubles, a triple, a homer, 10 runs scored, and a .251 wOBA. His weighted runs above average (wRAA) was -4.3, meaning that by having him in the lineup instead of the average hitter in the league, the Diamondbacks scored 4.3 fewer runs. During the cold spell, VanMeter, of course, wanted to turn it around. He found himself pressing (trying too hard), which often leads to a rapid downward spiral in performance. Playing time was both scarce and sporadic. The team wanted to get him consistent playing time, hoping that he could get into a rhythm and find his timing again. This meant that VanMeter headed to Reno and Arizona’s Triple-A affiliate, the Reno Aces.

VanMeter played regularly during his month in Reno. He certainly found his rhythm again, slashing .388/.538/.881 (26-for-67) in 19 games. This included six doubles, nine home runs, 20 RBI, 23 runs scored, a .554 wOBA, and 17.7 wRAA. The Diamondbacks recalled him on June 20. Since returning, he hasn’t put up all-star numbers, but he has shown improvement. He has slashed .222/.300/.371 (43-for-194) with 15 doubles, a triple, four home runs, 14 runs scored, a .293 wOBA, and -3.7 wRAA. For the season, his slash line has improved to .205/.294/.282.

Josh VanMeter Gets through the Peaks and Valleys

Josh VanMeter is a talented baseball player, yes, but he’s still human. He is a normal guy with thoughts and emotions like everyone else, something that is easy to forget. The cold stretches were tough on him at times, but he kept a positive mindset about it. Baseball is a tough sport, one where failing seven out of ten times is considered good. It is also a sport of hot and cold streaks. VanMeter said, “It’s just the ebbs and flows of baseball, there are always peaks and valleys. The good players know how to make the valleys really short and peak more often than they fall off. It feels like what the whole year has been. You’ll have a good month and a bad month, good month, bad month. It’s really just about finding consistency. Once I find that, there’ll definitely be more positive results.”

While fighting through the peaks and valleys, VanMeter had help from a few people. One was Diamondbacks Mental Skills Coordinator Zach Brandon. “Talking with him really helped,” VanMeter said. “Talking with other players, other coaches — like when I went down at triple A, just some of the conversations I had with coaches and other players — helped me put into perspective what baseball really is. At the end of the day, it’s a game. It’s a kids game that we get to play for a living. I think it’s important that you still look at it to have fun, even though (it’s hard to have fun) when you’re not having success. But take pride in the process and control what you can control. That’s really the biggest thing.”

Somebody Has Your Back

Josh VanMeter’s faith has also helped him through the peaks and valleys. He is an outspoken Christian who has Philippians 4:13— “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” — on his Twitter page. “It’s important,” he said, “to have that one central thing that you can rely on and always go and know that somebody has your back. No matter how deep you find yourself or how down in the dumps you are. But there’s always somebody you can talk to and somebody that has your back. I think it’s a central part of who I am and who I want to be. We have some really good leaders around here who take that very seriously, and we can lean on each other in that aspect. It’s an important part of life.”

Getting 1% Better Every Day

Since returning from Reno, VanMeter has become a more regular part of the lineup. With Eduardo Escobar being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers at the deadline, VanMeter has been playing both second and third. “Being able to play multiple positions is obviously a very good thing, but you got to play them well,” he said.

His struggles at the beginning of the year have made the defensive metrics look deceptive — they were well in the negative, and he has not had enough positive play to pull him back above zero. However, he is still moving in the right direction. “I think that’s one thing that is definitely a positive for me this year. I’ve gotten a lot better defensively — not only at second, but (also) at third — and I’m working my butt off at it. TP (infield coach Tony Perezchica) has me out here very consistently, and we get good work in. I think it’s showing. So I just try to just keep doing it and not get complacent.”

Josh VanMeter, 26, is still somewhat young, so he still has time to improve. That, of course, is his biggest goal. “Torey (Lovullo, the Diamondbacks manager) talks all the time about trying to find that 1%. Get 1% better every day. If that’s defense, offense, mentally, emotionally, there are numerous ways in one day where you can get 1% better.”

Main Photo:

Embed from Getty Images

Players/managers mentioned:

Josh VanMeter, Stuart Fairchild, Archie Bradley, Luis Torrens, Eduardo Escobar, Tony Perezchica, Torey Lovullo

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