Outfielder Robert Neustrom isn’t necessarily regarded as a top prospect in the Orioles’ farm system, but he enjoyed a productive season with the Double-A Bowie Baysox despite missing all of last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was promoted to Triple-A Norfolk July 19.
Neustrom was not at the alternate site at Bowie last summer, so he had to stay ready on his own to make sure that he wasn’t going to come back behind everyone else in 2021. On the positive side, the shutdown did allow him to get fully healthy. Late in the 2019 season, Neustrom dislocated his non-throwing shoulder, so he had ample time to recover.
Neustrom, 24, was drafted in the fifth round (145th overall) out of the University of Iowa in 2018. The 6-foot-2, 208-pound left-handed hitter batted .284/.364/.467 with seven home runs and 50 RBIs with the Baysox before being promoted, marking a breakout year for Neustrom.
“It definitely feels good coming off of a long offseason due to COVID, but I guess the biggest part has been being on this Bowie team,” Neustrom said on Glenn Clark Radio July 13. “There’s so much talent surrounding everybody and it kind of pushes you to your limits every day. We’ve got a really good coaching staff that really works on our individual needs … and I’ve been able to really benefit from that.”
Neustrom had two separate double-digit hit streaks as well as a 16-game on-base streak with the Baysox. He focuses on hitting the balls that are in his zone. He zeroes in on hitting the ball in his zone and being a consistent hitter with a lot of plate discipline. And now, Neustrom’s power is beginning to show up in games:
Neustrom credits Baysox hitting coach Ryan Fuller for helping him get the ball in the air more.
“In the offseason, it’s difficult to work on something like power because something like that can be easily messed up if you don’t have a good eye watching you while you do it,” Neustrom said. “You see a lot of guys who come in and they try to hit home runs and you can tell they’ve totally changed their swing to attempt to hit home runs.”
Neustrom had been at the lower end of Bowie’s batting order, usually seventh or eighth, but climbed up to those desirable middle-of-the-order spots before being promoted to Norfolk.
“At the beginning of the year I was hitting around three, four and five,” Neustrom said. “I kind of went through a little dip and got bumped down in the lineup for a considerable amount of time and I just used it as my motivation.”
Neustrom knows how excited Orioles fans are to have so many prospects on the Baysox, with catcher Adley Rutschman and pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and D.L. Hall having spent most or all of the season with Bowie. Do Baysox players feel pressure to impact the major-league team in short order?
“I can’t really say we really feel that pressure. I say that in the best way possible. It’s a testament to what kind of guys we have on the team,” Neustrom said. “I think we all use pressure to our advantage. We’ve got a lot of talent. Talent has never been the question at Bowie.”
Neustrom says Rutschman is just one of the guys on the team. The catcher is a very hard worker, according to Neustrom, who is happy to have such a supportive teammate like Rutschman around.
“Rutsch is great,” Neustrom said. “I’m sure everybody has a stigma around 1-1, an idea about what type of guys the first picks overall [are]. But Rutsch is just like one of us.”
With the 2021 MLB Draft having just occurred, Neustrom has a lot of advice about being drafted to an organization like the Orioles. He wants the guys who have been drafted to know something.
“I would just tell them, ‘Be ready to work. This team drafted you. They obviously trust you as a player,'” Neustrom said. “Obviously, draft day is fun, it’s exciting, but it ends pretty fast. Be ready to work.”
Update: This story was updated after the news of Neustrom’s promotion came down.
For more from Neustrom, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: William Vaughan/Bowie Baysox