He bats in the middle of the order for the Bowie Baysox and ranks second in the Double-A Northeast with 48 RBIs. No, we are not talking about highly ranked catching prospect Adley Rutschman, but a player not among the Orioles’ top 30 prospects.
He is 24-year-old lefty-hitting outfielder Robert Neustrom. He was drafted in 2018, the year the O’s selected right-hander Grayson Rodriguez with their top pick, out of the University of Iowa in the fifth round.
After posting modest stats in 2019, mostly with Single-A Delmarva and Single-A Frederick, Neustrom has taken off this year for the Baysox. But on a team with bigger names and bigger resumes on the farm, he can fly under the radar.
In 2019, Neustrom batted .256/.321/.391/.712 with seven homers and 47 RBIs in 82 games.
This year, over 58 games with Bowie, he is hitting .284/.358/.472/.830 with 14 doubles, three triples, seven homers and the 48 RBIs. He posted a .909 OPS in June and it is 1.086 in July, and he has four homers in 12 games so far this month.
“Neustrom has put in a lot of work to kind of redefine his swing,” Bowie manager Buck Britton said in a recent interview. “When the season first started, he was a guy that hit a lot of ground balls. Even to his pull side, and this guy has a got a lot of power. And I think some of the swing adjustments he’s made - trying to elevate the ball a little more - you’re kind of seeing, he started off really hot but it was one of those things where ground balls were getting through the infield. He can run a little and he was beating stuff out.
“But now there is a lot of damage being done at the plate. Because he is getting that ball in the air a little more and letting his power play. He’s been really, really good and taken off this last month and solidified our lineup in the middle.”
Britton has seen a hitter developing in front of his eyes this year. One who is making better swing decisions as the season goes on and one who is getting to fastballs better and driving them. And one with a real knack for driving in runs.
Neustrom is batting .361 with runners in scoring position with an OPS of 1.040.
“He competes his tail off in the box,” Britton said. “He doesn’t like leaving guys out there, I’ll tell you that. He’s been a real joy to work with.”
Neustrom’s power was considered his best tool coming out of Iowa, where he was All-Big 10 first team in 2018. He is not ranked among the club’s top 30 prospects, but might be making a move to join that group.
“I’ll let the experts do the prospect rankings,” said Britton. “But he’s having a really good year. He’s opened a lot of eyes. If people didn’t know who Neustrom was, I think they are starting to. And yeah, I think if a guy continues to play like this, he’s going to get on the map.”
And Britton said Neustrom has been solid on defense too.
“The defense is getting better,” Britton said. “He’s probably, right now, an average defender. But he can move a little bit and he’s really gotten better. He works his butt off. Been playing both left and right and he’s an accurate thrower. Rob has done a nice job. Can’t wait to watch him continue to grow.”
Means’ night with Norfolk: After pitching for high Single-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie, O’s lefty John Means took the mound for Triple-A Norfolk last night at Memphis. It was his last tuneup before rejoining the Orioles in St. Petersburg against Tampa Bay in the second series out of the break.
Means’ pitch count got elevated by a few walks and deep counts, and he left the game after allowing a leadoff single in the last of the fourth. The inherited runner scored when Evan Phillips came in and gave up a two-run homer.
So Means went three innings plus, allowing five hits (I saw at least three infield hits) and two runs with three walks and four strikeouts. He threw 74 pitches, 46 for strikes, setting him up for 90 or so when he rejoins the Orioles.
The second half begins: Yes, the Orioles have played more than 81 games, so the so-called second half begins tonight when they play at Kansas City. They are 28-61 and have lost four in a row and seven of eight games.
O’s starting pitchers have gone six innings or more in just two of the last 35 games. O’s pitchers have allowed 37 runs the last four games (9.3 per game) and 146 in the last 20 games (7.3 per game).
To this point, the Orioles have played just 11 games against teams with losing records. But as they begin a series at Kansas City tonight, they will now play 12 of the next 15 versus clubs with current losing records. They play at Kansas City and then at Tampa Bay, followed by home series with Washington and Miami and a series at Detroit to end this month.