Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Getting to Know Greeneville Astros SS Stijn Van Der Meer

When you see SS Stijn van der Meer play, the first thing you'll probably notice is his stick thin 6'3" 170-pound build. The second thing you'll probably notice is that he can hit. Greeneville Manager Josh Bonifay said of Van der Meer, "He takes a really good at-bat. He's got a line drive stroke. He's got a pretty good understanding of the strike zone." In his first 21 games with the Astros, he hit .329/.404/.418 with three doubles, two triples and 10 RBI.

Van der Meer, originally from Netherlands, was drafted by the Astros in the 34th round in 2016 out of Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. When I talked with him last month in Greeneville, Tennessee, I asked him about his journey so far. "I actually came here [to the U.S.] four years ago, my freshman year of college. I got an opportunity to play junior college in Oklahoma. I took it, went there, played there for three years. [I] played pretty well and then Lamar University of Texas recruited me, played there for two years and then I got drafted and now I'm here."

Van der Meer elaborated a bit about that college experience, "Typical junior college [Eastern Oklahoma State College] -- it was in a town called Wilburton in Oklahoma. There was literally nothing there [Population: 2843] so it was basically campus, baseball and working out, and that's all you could do there. Then I went to Lamar University. There's really nothing to do there either so basically all I did was play baseball and worked out and school." Being close to Houston, he was able to catch a couple of Astros games with his father when he visited from Netherlands.

When asked about his draft experience, van der Meer said, "I did know that [the Astros] were interested. I just didn't expect them to draft me, to be honest. I saw it on twitter and my phone started blowing up and things started rolling from there." He wasn't really worried about not getting drafted, though, because he had a pretty good backup plan. "I have a great opportunity to play baseball back home so even if it wasn't going to be here, I was going to play baseball regardless." Van der Meer has played in the Dutch Major League since he was 19, compiling a .341/.408/.401 batting line over 121 games.

Once van der Meer's season with Greeneville came to an end, he was headed back to Netherlands to participate in the European Championships, an experience that he hopes will lead to an opportunity to play for Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic next year. He's been on the National Team for some time but making the WBC team isn't a given. "We're the Kingdom of the Netherlands now so we have Curacao, Aruba. They have some great infielders already playing in the major leagues so I'm hoping to make the roster because it would be a great experience, but you never know. You just keep working hard," said van der Meer.

Of his first brief professional season since being drafted, van der Meer told me, "The pitching here is definitely a lot better than I see at home. I see good pitching every day. It makes me a better hitter, just seeing the pitches and trying to hit them. I feel like I've become a better hitter. Just hoping I can keep improving."

But there is one improvement that he may be hard-pressed to make. "I'm not the biggest so they're probably going to tell me to gain weight. They've told me that for the last six years. I've been trying everything to gain weight. It's just not happening," said van der Meer. And genetics aren't working in his favor. His father and six uncles all range from 6'1" to 6'4" and 170 to 185 lb.

Asked to give a scouting report on himself, van der Meer obliged, "I have a good eye at the plate. I can put a barrel on the ball. I don't really strike out that much. I will not hit for power. I will steal an occasional base. I'm not the fastest. I'm not the slowest either. I make the routine plays in the field. Every once in a while, I make an extra play. That's basically it."

Bonifay said of van der Meer, "He can play a premier position, shortstop, and he can play second base and [you can] put him in the game at third. He has very good actions, good arm strength." Van der Meer doesn't necessarily have the speed that you would like to see at the top of the order, but Bonifay noted, "His ability to get on base and his ability with runners in scoring position, especially with a runner at third and less than two outs has been awesome. You can count on him on a daily basis. He's just a very steady hand, very steady fielder."

Switching gears, I asked van der Meer which Greeneville Astros pitcher he would least like to face in the batter's box. He responded, "That probably would be [Patrick] Sandoval because I'm a left-handed hitter and he's a left-handed pitcher. [In Sandoval's final appearance of the season], he had a really good outing. His slider is one of his best pitches and his change up was really working too. You could see all the Twins hitters were really having problems with him. And the other guy would probably be [Jorge] Guzman. He just throws really, really hard." Van der Meer may not want to face Sandoval, but he fared quite nicely against lefty pitchers in a limited number of at-bats in his first pro season, hitting .435/.436/.478 off them.

But he was also impressed with what he's seen of RHP Forrest Whitley, "I know he's our first round draft pick. For being a high-schooler, an 18-year old, it's just so easy how he throws and commands all his pitches. I'm very excited to see how far he can come."

Something people may not know about van der Meer is that he is a "decent" soccer player. "The big sport in the Netherlands is soccer. All my friends play soccer. Here, they either play baseball or pick up basketball. What we did, we played soccer every day after school," said van der Meer. Unsurprisingly when asked what he would do if he didn't play baseball, the quick response was, "I'd probably play soccer." Baseball may not be as popular as soccer in his country, but it is on the upswing.

Stijn van der Meer - August 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

The first things you may notice about Stijn van der Meer when you see him play may be his less than impressive physique and his ability to hit, but the first things you will notice when you talk with him are a ready dimpled smile, a twinkle in his eye and a deep and surprisingly unaccented speaking voice. It was a pleasure speaking with him and it was a pleasure to watch him play.

Thank you for your time, Stijn, and best of luck with the WBC and the coming season.

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