It could not have been easy to do, but in 2021, on the way to a breakout season, Orioles outfield prospect Robert Neustrom made some in-season swing adjustments. Adjustments that took his offense to a higher level as he ended the year among the top hitters on the O’s farm.
But at the end of May while with Double-A Bowie, he had an OPS of .608 with one homer. It was then that he and Baysox hitting coach Ryan Fuller went to work. He was a power hitter putting the ball on the ground way too much. He lowered his hands and developed a less straight upright stance to provide a bat path to help get him some more consistent lift on the ball.
His OPS was .909 in June at Bowie and 1.035 in July. Around mid-season he moved to Triple-A Norfolk, where his September OPS was .787.
This was a real solid year that possibly could lead him to a spot on the O’s 40-man roster next month.
Over 126 games - 62 at Bowie and 64 at Norfolk - Neustrom batted .258/.344/.446/.790 with 31 doubles, three triples, 16 homers and 83 RBIs. He did that with respectable walk (11.0) and strikeout (20.7) rates. He led all O’s minor leaguers in doubles, and among the full-season players ranked second in RBIs and was tied for seventh in homers and was eighth in OPS.
A fifth-round draft pick out of the University of Iowa in 2018, he’s not ranked among the O’s top 30 prospects at this moment, but that could be changing down the road after his ‘21 season.
Earlier this week, I taped an interview with Neustrom via Zoom that you can watch in full at the end of this entry.
“Oh man, it was a lot of fun,” he said of his solid year. “That is the biggest thing. I had a lot of fun playing this year. When I do look back and reflect it definitely came with its highs and its valleys too, you know, like everybody’s baseball season. You look back on that with fondness. You look back on that with motivation’s eye on next year. I couldn’t be happier with my how my year went.
“Starting in Double-A after the COVID year was huge. I didn’t know what would happen after spring training and I got the nod for Double-A. I thought that was kind of big, that was imperative to start in Double-A as opposed to high-A. And then make my ultimate goal to reach Triple-A by the end of the year. That happened. So, it couldn’t have been without the help of the coaches and everyone along the way. It’s just been a really fun year.”
And while he wasn’t around with Bowie for the Double-A playoffs, he was there at the start as the team began the year 21-5 and was flying high.
“It was a lot of fun,” Neustrom said. “It was like we didn’t know how to lose. Just a good feeling, and when you are going through the grind of a minor league season, to win games really keeps that energy rolling. It’s like a domino effect. We played as a team too, and always had each other’s backs. That was a big emphasis on that Bowie team: Cheer for the guy next to you. Let’s win. Tomorrow is always a new day if you had a bad game. Just a lot of fun playing there.”
With Bowie, Neustrom batted .368 with a 1.037 OPS with runners in scoring position. If there was a duck on the pond, he was relentless in an effort to score the runners.
“He competes his tail off in the box,” Bowie manager Buck Britton said. “He doesn’t like leaving guys out there, I’ll tell you that. He’s been a real joy to work with.”
We wrote often this year about the scores players got daily on the farm on their swing decisions - as in, did they swing at the right pitch and take at the right times? Neustrom said that was big for him.
“Daily after each game the analytics department did a really good job of getting those numbers out within an hour or two of most games. So, for me, I like to look at them. See how I am trending. Which pitches I am hitting well and in what zone. I look at them and they did a great job getting those out.
“It taught me a lot about hitting. Those swing-decisions scores. So, that was something I placed a big emphasis on.”
Neustrom said there was a good energy on the farm this year, and he credited the coaches for that.
“They brought the energy every day,” he said. “As a player, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one going through the grind. But you know, realistically, the coaches are going through that same grind too. They pushed us every day. Every day. We worked hard, and at the end of the day it made a lot of us way better.
“At the end of the day, it you want to accomplish something as exceptional as playing in MLB, you’ve got to put in the hours and the focus. They did a great job of keeping us doing that all year.”
Next month the Orioles will need to set their 40-man roster in advance of the December Rule 5 draft. For the first time, Neustrom is Rule 5-eligible and the club must decide whether to add him to the 40-man. Neustrom said he hasn’t heard anything yet on that front.
“To be honest, I don’t really know a whole lot. I know things will start to fall into place in a few weeks,” he said. “I guess the way I look at - it would be great. That was my goal this year, I knew it was my Rule 5 year and I really wanted to have a good year. I wanted to make adjustments that would put me in a good position to make the 40-man. You know, at this point, it’s out of my control. I’m happy with the season I’ve had. I know, going forward, I’ve learned a lot and there a lot of things I want to work on too. If that happens, I would be very happy.”
Now check out our interview taped this week.