These three on O’s farm looked to improve even without games

The summer was rolling on and the Orioles’ 60-game season was underway. Some, but not all, of the club’s top minor league players, were getting great work in at the alternate site in Bowie. But what about the rest of the minor league players? There are more than 100 of them.

In this recent entry, pitchers Drew Rom and Brenan Hanifee provided updates about how they have been getting their work in and their innings in without games to play. Today I check in with three position players on the O’s farm to get updates from them.

During a Zoom interview I talked with infielder Mason McCoy, outfielder Robert Neustrom and catcher Brett Cumberland.

NEUSTROM

A fifth-round draft pick out of the University of Iowa in 2018, Neustrom, 23, spent 47 games last year at Single-A Delmarva and 31 with Single-A Frederick. He batted a combined .256/.321/.391 with 20 doubles, seven homers, 47 RBIs and a .712 OPS. A lefty hitter and thrower, he has made 110 career starts in right field and 11 in left field.

Neustrom has a good friend who plays in Arizona’s farm system, and that friend suggested he join him and other players training in North Carolina, so Neustrom did just that.

“It’s been strange, obviously, but here in North Carolina, I’ve been seeing live pitching two times a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” he said. “Getting, like, 10 to 12 at-bats each day, which has been great. I think the biggest thing during this hiatus, is I really tried to replicate the physicality of playing every day. So, as far as training went, over six and seven days, I was trying to get something in, because during a typical minor league season we’re playing every day of the week.

“Before I came here to North Carolina, I was in Iowa City training at a cage there. Getting good work in as well, but coming out here to North Carolina, being able to get with a training group and see these live at-bats has been big for me. I just felt this was mandatory for me to do. I’m really glad I came here, it’s been a great opportunity.”

Leading into the 2020 season, the Orioles hired several new, young minor league hitting coaches, including Tim Gibbons at Double-A Bowie, Ryan Fuller for Single-A Delmarva, Anthony Villa for short-season, Single-A Aberdeen and Patrick Jones at the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. They join Frederick hitting coach Tom Eller, who was hired before the 2019 season.

Even though these players only got to work in person with the new coaches for a few weeks in spring training, Neustrom said he was very encouraged by the new group.

“There were a ton of new faces this spring training,” he said. “But my experience with them was great. They are very transparent. This new regime is very transparent and very personable. Every one of these coaches, even though they were new, I feel like I got to know them in that short month I was at spring training. My situation was a little different. I couldn’t swing until two weeks into spring due to an injury I was rehabbing over the offseason, but as soon as I got going, they were helping me out and really keeping tabs on my swing. It was a great experience. They are great at reaching out and staying in touch with us.”

McCoy-Fielding-White-ST-sidebar.jpgMCCOY

A sixth-round draft pick out of the University of Iowa in 2017, McCoy, 25, played 27 games last season at Frederick and 105 at Bowie. He was hitting .379 on May 6 when he was promoted to join a Bowie club that then had the worst record in the minors at 7-23. He helped get that offense going, and from that point on, Bowie went 69-41 and later played for the Eastern League championship.

Over the two teams, McCoy batted .290/.345/.378 with 22 doubles, seven triples, four homers and 48 RBIs. He was an O’s non-roster invitee to spring training. And during the 2019 season he was rated as the O’s No. 29 prospect by Baseball America and No. 25 by MLBPipeline.com.

For his career McCoy has made 239 starts at shortstop and 58 at second base.

McCoy, who is living and working out in Washington, Ill., told me about how he has tried to stay sharp without any minor league games.

“My junior college is literally a minute up the road,” he said. “Luckily, I get to go there and do every single thing they do. So, I practice with them four to five times a week and they (play) intrasquad three times. So, I’m getting six or seven at-bats each of those three days. Tuesdays I drive to Bloomington, which is about 45 minutes away, to go to an academy. They have a couple of guys from the A’s throwing there. So I got to get some live at-bats there, usually about three or four. Just trying to replicate the regular season as best as I can.

“Even early on when our Juco was shut down and we couldn’t practice, Pat Venditte, the ambidextrous pitcher who is with the Marlins now, he is from my area. He came and threw about 10 to 12 at-bats every week to me. Which was pretty neat, I’ve never seen something like that.”

So that had to really be beneficial for McCoy, to get some at-bats off a pitcher who has thrown in the majors for several teams.

“Not that high school or college guys don’t know, but guys that are smarter about it and know what you are looking for or know what type of hitter you are, I think the first couple times I faced him he just tore me up. I was a little bit rattled by him throwing with both hands. But after a while I could figure out what he was doing and there were more competitive at-bats,” he said.

CUMBERLAND

Cumberland, 25, was a Competitive Balance Round B pick by the Atlanta Braves in 2016. He was taken No. 76 overall after leading the Pac 10 conference in homers in 2016 for Cal. He’s a switch-hitter and was acquired by the Orioles in the July 31, 2018 deal with the Braves that sent pitchers Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to Atlanta. Cumberland played 41 games last year for Bowie, 15 for Frederick and four at Aberdeen. He hit a combined .257/.404/.415 with 14 doubles, five homers and 24 RBIs. He had an .820 OPS. He was rated by Baseball America as Atlanta’s No. 23 prospect at the end of 2017.

“Right now I am in my home town, Turlock, California,” said Cumberland. “I spent a month in Seattle at Driveline. I go back and forth and during the offseason to train both there and in Turlock. I started as soon as spring ended, came back here and it was like a continued offseason for me. There is a place I train out here called Backyard Baseball. It is owned by an ex-big leaguer named Steve Soderstrom. It’s an old barn and they have HitTrax there and everything. I’m able to get really quality work in. But I’m not as lucky as the other guys in that there is no one around me throwing live BPs. And when I was at Driveline, no one was in what you would call competition phase. So, they were not throwing lives yet, but I’m hoping when I get back they will be.

“But we are really lucky with the Orioles to have some great coaches in our organization. Our hitting coaches are awesome. Not only that, our strength coaches write up programs for us. We are blessed to be in the organization we are in. The coaches are always there for us. If I have questions they get right back to me. We’re pretty fortunate.”

Driveline Baseball has become well known for its work with numerous pro players, using technology to help them improve.

“It’s helped me exponentially,” Cumberland said of his work at Driveline, where he also worked with a catching instructor. “Just the technology they have and how smart those guys are. Every day I am learning something new. They have all the technology to make you better. Their hitting side is newer, but it’s going to boom here, just like their pitching has”

Cumberland said Maverick Handley, another O’s minor league catcher, also worked with him at Driveline.

Check out this Zoom video from my interview with Neustrom, McCoy and Cumberland.

I really enjoyed talking with these guys and I’ll post another entry with some of their thoughts next week.

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