CEDAR RAPIDS — The University of Iowa was the only Division I college baseball program to ever contact Robert Neustrom.
He was an all-state outfielder at Sioux City North High School, but was headed to North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City had he not decided to accept a walk-on invitation with the Hawkeyes.
What a great decision he made. Neustrom became an all-Big Ten Conference player at Iowa and became its highest Major League Baseball position-player draft pick in 26 years when the Baltimore Orioles plucked him Tuesday afternoon in the middle of the fifth round.
Catcher Tyler Cropley later made it two Hawkeyes in the top 10 rounds when he was picked by the Washington Nationals in the eighth round.
“Man, it’s just a process,” Neustrom said. “It’s a mindset. (Being a walk-on) teaches you how to play the game with a chip on your shoulder. With a sort of swagger that you can beat out anyone and do whatever you want, as long as you work hard and put your mind to it.”
Neustrom has another year of college eligibility remaining, but surely will sign a contract to turn professional. The assigned dollar amount for his pick (145th overall) is $361,000, and, as a junior, he has a bit of leverage when it comes to a signing bonus.
Prior to Neustrom, the highest-picked Hawkeye position player was outfielder Danan Hughes, who went to the Milwaukee Brewers in the third round in 1992. Hughes ultimately chose a career in pro football, playing as a wide receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs.
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Neustrom hit .311 this season for Iowa, with 15 doubles and 11 home runs. He started in 152 of his 166 career games.
Scouts believe he has untapped power potential at the plate. Neustrom is the 16th Hawkeye to be drafted in Rick Heller’s five years as head coach at the school.
The Orioles drafted infielder Mason McCoy last year out of Iowa, and he is in low-Class A with Delmarva of the South Atlantic League. Neustrom said he got a congratulatory text from McCoy shortly after Neustrom being drafted by the club was announced.
“Just really excited,” Neustrom said. “Really relieved, man, just because it can be a nerveracking process. It was a lot of fun, and I feel very grateful for this opportunity to now go on and pursue a career in baseball and work hard with the Orioles.”
Cropley had a monster senior season for Iowa, turning himself into a Johnny Bench Award semifinalist. That goes to college baseball’s top catcher.
The South Dakota native and former Iowa Western Community College player led the Hawkeyes with a .342 average, doubles (20) and RBIs (50).
“Everything just happened very, very quickly (today),” Cropley said. “I kind of knew it was going to happen quick, with other guys telling me that. But I didn’t think it was going to go as quick as it did. It was just a phone call ‘Hey, we’re going to take you.’ Then your name shows up on the TV. Kind of weird.”
The slot value for Cropley’s pick is $157,200. He will sign and be at Washington’s minor-league complex in Florida within the next few days.
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“I think a lot of people thought everything was going to click for me at some point in my career,” Cropley said. “And this was the year it finally did.”
The first Iowan selected Tuesday was Iowa Western Community College pitcher Keaton Winn, by the San Francisco Giants with the second pick of the fifth round. Winn prepped at Pekin.
Iowa Western pitcher Sean Chandler went in the sixth round to the Texas Rangers. He is a Nebraska native.
The draft began Monday night with the first two rounds. It will conclude Wednesday with rounds 11 through 40, with other Iowans expected to go.
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