Cincinnati Reds: Grading Josh VanMeter’s rapid ascent as a rookie
By Allie Kaylor
Josh VanMeter had a career-year at Triple-A Louisville before being called up to the Cincinnati Reds. He didn’t maintain, but still exceeded expectations.
Josh VanMeter entertained Cincinnati Reds fans in 2019, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the season was a success. Several Reds rookies had an interesting season. Hitters at Triple-A Louisville seemed to benefit more from the juiced balls than anyone else. VanMeter was no exception to this.
Before he was called up on May 5, VanMeter led all of minor league baseball in home runs (13) and had a 1.189 OPS. The hottest player in baseball received his call-up and he made his first start on May 8th as the team’s designated hitter against the Oakland Athletics.
VanMeter was never a top prospect. The Padres drafted the 24-year old out of a small high school in Indiana in the fifth round of the 2013 Draft. It took him four seasons to reach Double-A, owning a career .263 batting average in the minors. VanMeter never hit more than 14 home runs in a season and was an afterthought until he came out swinging to begin 2019.
From his call-up in April until returning to Triple-A in mid-June, VanMeter did not represent the same hitter he was in Louisville. In 41 at-bats, VanMeter did not hit a single home run, a stark difference from his first month in Louisville. VanMeter’s cold bat caused him to go back to Louisville and Phillip Ervin took his spot on the 25-man roster.
One of VanMeter’s biggest moments in 2019 came on July 20th against the St. Louis Cardinals. With no home runs in big leagues, everyone was wondering when VanMeter was going to break through.
He finally did in the bottom of the seventh inning when VanMeter sent a two-run shot over the right field wall into the Cincinnati Reds bullpen, scoring Yasiel Puig and giving his team the 3-1 lead over Miles Mikolas and the Cards.
For someone with little expectations, it was pretty good showing. No one really foresaw VanMeter as much at the major league level, especially not this season. In fact, being called up before September this year was already exceeding what he was supposed to do this season. Although he was barely a league average hitter this year, VanMeter’s season should be considered a success.
Unfortunately, there is more to baseball than exceeding expectations. VanMeter didn’t show much that made it appear as though he has the ability to be a major league player. He had his hot streaks, but VanMeter was never a consistent hitter, even after receiving everyday at-bats in August and September.
Josh VanMeter was also a huge defensive liability. He had -0.3 defensive WAR and, regardless of the position he played, seemed to struggle snaring ground balls. For the season, VanMeter slashed .237/.327/.408 with 8 home runs and 23 RBIs. While VanMeter wasn’t great, he was not bad either during his first season with the Cincinnati Reds.