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2021 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews, #26: Josh VanMeter

Let’s look at the man who literally ended the 2021 Diamondbacks’ season.

Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images
  • Rating: 4.14
  • Age: Turned 26 on March 10
  • 2021 Stats: 112 G, 310 PA. 6 HR, 36 RBI, .212/.297/.354 = .651 OPS (76 OPS+), -0.2 bWAR
  • 2021 Earnings: Pre-arbitration (2.062 years service time)
  • 2022 Status: On D-backs’ 40-man roster, no minor-league options left.

I chose Josh VanMeter because I wanted him to get a good and fair review for the work he put in on our behalf in 2021; it seemed like too many vocal people in online D-Backs communities gave him a lot of hate this season. It’s time to delve in and see how warranted that was. Spoiler warning: it was pretty warranted….

Josh was originally drafted by the Padres as a high schooler in the 5th round of the 2013 draft. He signed and went to the Arizona League Padres. He was brought along slowly throughout his MiLB career, finally making his MLB debut on May 5, 2019 with the Cincinnati Reds (to whom he’d been traded as a PTBNL for Luis Torrens in 2016).

VanMeter was traded again on August 31, 2020. This time to the Arizona Diamondbacks with Stuart Fairchild for Archie Bradley. He finished 2020 with an abysmal batting line of .129 average, .228 OBP, .257 SLG, 2HRs, and 6 RBIs in 79 Plate Appearances.

2021 Recap

That’s… uh, not a great look for a player. Especially one trying to make his case as one of his team’s newest members. So into 2021 we head!

VanMeter made the opening day roster out of Spring Training and lasted until May 23 when the team optioned him to Reno to make room for Taylor Widener. While in Reno, he blasted the ball to a .388 average, .881 SLG with 9HRs, 20 RBIs and more walks than strikeouts over 67 at-bats. Take all the Reno caveats into consideration, but he hit over .300 in the Reds’ system as well at AAA in 2019.

On June 20, 2021 Josh was recalled (due to Carson Kelly’s broken wrist) and stayed up for the rest of the year. No matter how you cut it, his ability to hit the ball at the highest level is disappointing. In 2021 his batting average was .212. His on-base percentage was .324. His Slugging .354. He hit 6 home runs, 26 RBIs, and stole 4 bases. All this equates to a -.5 WAR according to Fangraphs, his second such season in a row. These stats gave me early-career Ahmed recollections, which turned out to be semi-true. Nick, of course, has his glove to lean on when it comes to being a valuable ballplayer.

Ironically, Josh VanMeter has similar defensive metrics to Ahmed… sorta (can you tell I’m stretching for good news now?). Ahmed and VanMeter both grade out in the .970 to .980 Fielding Percentage at similar points in their careers. However, Ahmed was playing short stop and I’m being generous by only counting VanMeter’s second base stats. His third base stats are nearly 100 points lower. To be fair, Josh did play some first and outfield as well in 2021 (certainly not natural positions for him), but not with enough innings to be relevant to his overall performance. For the bean-counters among you, he committed zero errors at those positions in a whopping 10 innings of work.

Without a doubt (seriously, there is no doubt. None whatsoever. This scrawny baseball fan will fight you over it), the highlight of VanMeter’s 2021 season came on the last day. (Or if you are one of those strange fans who care about a single draft position, his lowest moment). In five at-bats, he got two hits, but it is the final for which he will be remembered (and hated?). In the bottom of the ninth, Josh connected for his sixth home run of the season, breaking a tie game and giving the team a genuinely happy moment.

For me, it was reminiscent of Chris Owings’ walk off hit on April 2, 2017 (against Mark Melancon of all people): an overlooked player from whom few expected value in a situation no one expected anything other than failure for the team as whole. Obviously, Owings’ set the team up for an unexpected Wild Card appearance and VanMeter’s simply has the distinction of netting the franchise the 2nd overall draft pick rather than first. But as we learned from Jim on October 3, 2021, picking first or second is kind of a wash anyway

And even that pick is dependent upon the CBA negotiations not interfering with the 2022 draft order.

2022 Outlook

Looking to 2022 for Josh VanMeter, we can probably expect him to make the opening day roster again. Firstly, he has no options remaining. Secondly, he has proven AAA is no match for him. Thirdly (and most important to ownership), he is still cheap! Unfortunately for Josh, his primary position is second base, and that’s a spot likely to be manned by Ketel Marte for the majority of the season. While he’ll likely be the primary guy on Marte’s off days, those will be relatively few and far between, meaning he needs to find a new home to remain useful.

Theoretically the elusive NL DH could be used, but there are better (or at least higher ceiling) hitters for that spot. He could move to the outfield, but he has little to no experience there, and I doubt 4 innings of emergency work really qualify him to man a corner regularly. Plus, by mid season at the latest, I’d expect every extra outfield inning is mostly being given to younger guys like Alek Thomas, Dom Canzone and McCarthy/Fairchild. That leaves… third base.

I’m about to eat my words from December 4, 2021 when I reviewed Drew Ellis and said he was the only viable third baseman on the team. I even joked in the comments about spoiling my VanMeter review regarding third as an option.

Oops.

I still don’t think VanMeter is a third baseman. But knowing this team, and the value they place on young (read cheap) guys who “can” play multiple positions, it’s going to happen barring that Kyle Seager signing I’m still pulling for.

All that said, I would be a little surprised if VanMeter is still in the conversation for any position in 2023 unless he drastically improves or Marte is actually traded. But even with a trade possible (or likely twelve months from now), I’d have to lean into the idea that Ahmed could man second with Perdomo at short, or even Ryan Bliss (assuming a quick rise through the minors and/or a change to service time rules).

Despite only having approximately a single full season’s worth of at-bats at the MLB level, they are over the course of 3 seasons. He is either going to be a late bloomer, or a Quad-A kinda guy. But hey, at least he got to live every little ballplayer’s dream and hit a walk-off home-run in the bottom of the ninth! What a different type of experience to take into 2022 than he had a year ago!