When I interviewed 2019 Single-A Delmarva manager Kyle Moore recently, we discussed his Shorebirds being named the Minor League Baseball team of the year by Milb.com.
But we also discussed a few players who flew under the radar on that team, which went 90-48 this season and became the first South Atlantic League team with 90 or more wins since 2006.
One was lefty hitting corner outfielder Robert Neustrom, the Orioles’ fifth-round pick out of the University of Iowa in 2018. The 2019 year was his first full season of pro ball, and it was interrupted by a hamstring injury at the end of April. He didn’t return until June 14.
But overall Neustrom, who turned 24 earlier this month, hit .256/.321/.391 with 20 doubles, seven homers and 47 RBIs in 82 games.
“The best tool he has is power from the left side, and he can hit a ball out of the park at anytime in the count,” said Moore. “He can really turn a fastball around. He surprised me a bit in how well he hit lefties. He was a reverse-split lefty guy. Sometimes left-handed pitching can force a lefty hitter to stay closed a bit longer and it can get you right. He can really hit the lefties.”
Neustrom hit .285/.364/.453 in 47 games with the Shorebirds. He moved to Single-A Frederick on July 24 and hit .238/.285/.344 in 31 games with the Keys. He did hit lefties well, batting .325 against southpaws with Delmarva and .313 with Frederick.
How did his defense rate?
“It’s pretty good,” said Moore. “But one thing we have to work on overall is just the instincts and where to throw the ball every time. Playing the ball off the wall, that type of stuff. But he’s a really good athlete, and in the corner we are not asking him to do a ton. Catch the ball, hit the cutoff man and play fundamental baseball, which he is more than capable of. If he can stay healthy, he might be in the corner in the majors one day.
“He is a surprisingly fast runner. You look at his stolen-base numbers (five in six attempts) and wouldn’t think he’s a burner. But he gets down the line well and is an above-average runner that can steal a base. But with his pop sometimes I would remind him we need him more in the lineup to do damage than try to steal and run. But he’s a good runner, above average.”
Even though he was not there for the full season and was not there for the playoffs, it seems Neustrom made a solid impression on Moore.
“I would have him on my radar to have a big year next year and really get himself on the map,” he said.
On a Shorebirds pitching staff with a lot of talent, lefty reliever Zach Matson flew under the radar for sure. Before he moved to Frederick in late June, he went 4-0 with a 2.55 ERA in 17 games for Delmarva. Matson, who turned 24 in October, was drafted in round 24 in 2016.
For Delmarva he fanned 63 in 35 1/3 innings for an impressive strikeout rate of 16.0 per nine, and he added a 1.13 WHIP.
“He is a lefty with a big-time hammer curveball - he can really spin that breaking ball,” Moore said. “And his fastball is sneaky because he throws the breaking balls that he commands with big-time bite and then he can throw his fastball around 93 (mph) at times. It’s not like he’s got a below-average fastball. But the curveball, you see teams and lefty hitters sit on that and then he can throw the fastball by you.
“He is a guy that I was most proud of for the character, makeup and the resilience that he showed after being stuck in extended (spring training to start the year) to work on some stuff. He could have easily folded up the tent and pout and whine. But he didn’t do that. He showed up and dominated. Then boom, he was in Frederick and there were nights he could have pitched anywhere with that big ol’ left-handed curveball. I thought the most of his character, him getting where he got to this year.”
Matson’s stay in extended spring training was not very long, as he made his first Delmarva appearance on April 18 and his first with Frederick on June 26. With the Keys, he went 1-2 with a 5.01 ERA in 17 games with a strikeout rate of 9.7. His stats fell as he moved up to the Carolina League.
For his career, Matson, who was drafted out of Crowder College in Missouri, has a 4.76 walk rate and 11.48 strikeout rate.
“We saw stuff from him in Delmarva that was electric at times,” added Moore. “Super exciting. A lefty that can get righties out, too, with the big breaking ball. He did a great job for us and was key big-time. When Matson, (Tim) Naughton and (Tyler) Joyner left, our three-headed monster in the bullpen - two righties, two big breaking balls and Naughton with big-time velocity and a slider - we felt it. Those guys got everybody out. They made seven, eight and nine for me super easy.”