By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Robert Neustrom's rise as a baseball player took another significant step on Tuesday when the Baltimore Orioles selected him in the fifth round the 2018 Amateur Baseball Draft, and with the 145th pick overall.
The Sioux City native is the highest position player from Iowa to be selected since Danan Hughes in 1992.
Neustrom started all 53 games as a junior this past season and led Iowa with 11 home runs and was second on the team with a .311 batting average.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound left-hander was expected to be selected in the first 10 rounds of the draft after three solid seasons at Iowa. He was ranked as the 147th best prospect by MLBPipeline.com and No. 189 by Baseball America.
Iowa coach Rick Heller said recently on KCJJ radio that he expected Neustrom to be taken high enough in the draft to where Neustrom wouldn't return for his senior season. That would almost certainly be the case now with Neustrom having been selected in the fifth round.
"We're all super happy for Robert and Robert was definitely one of the guys that we had planned on losing from the start of the fall barring injury or something that would've caused that to not happen," Heller said Tuesday. "All of us pretty much knew that with Robert's ability that he was probably going to go. So that was no surprise and we planned on that from the beginning.
"I'm just super happy for Robert and his family."
Iowa has played in the Big Ten Tournament in each of Neustrom's three seasons on the team, winning the tournament for the first time in 2017.
Neustrom came to Iowa as a lightly recruited prospect who was just looking for a chance to prove himself. Heller gave him that chance and now Neustrom is on the verge of literally being rewarded for it.
He and Heller spoke on the phone shortly after Neustrom was selected on Tuesday and they thought back to when Iowa first started to recruit Neustrom as a junior in high school. Heller had just finished his first season as the Iowa head coach in 2014 when he started building a relationship with Neustrom.
"I said, Robert, did you think we'd be talking about this when I was talking to you after the game in Sioux City when I first got here," Heller said. "And we were both laughing about it.
"But he's come a long, long way, and I'm just super happy for him."
As for replacing Neustrom in right field, Heller said junior-college recruit Zeb Adrean could fill that void. Adrean is a sopohomore at Southeastern Community College and was one of nine players who signed with Iowa in November.
"There obviously are some guys coming back," Heller said without being specific. "But we signed Zeb Adrean out of Southeastern as a guy that we felt like could come into right field potentially and fill the void that Robert is going to leave with his bat. He's put up some pretty impressive numbers in his two years at Southeastern."
Adrean hit .362 and led the nation with 29 doubles as a freshman in junior college. The Pleasantville native also drove in 56 runs as a freshman and batted .500 during the 2017 regional tournament.