Orioles prospects Robert Neustrom and Nick Vespi face an uncertain future. It just cheers them on.

This situation is not new to Robert Neustrom, even if it is not ideal. He’d been here before, a high school baseball player in Sioux City, Iowa, and he flew under the radar. Before he could become a star at the University of Iowa, he needed to join the Hawkeye program and prove to others what he believed in himself – that he belonged to him.

“I’ll always be that kid from Iowa, where scouts don’t swarm, colleges don’t swarm,” Newstrom said this week, sitting in a dugout in Harbor Park, which is The home tide of the Norfolk Triple-A team. “I always play like I have nothing to lose.”

That’s Neustrom’s way of staying positive. When he wasn’t added to the Orioles’ 40-man roster late last season, he realized a major league debut at another club was a possibility. He has four seasons of minor league service time, making him eligible for the Rule 5 draft.

But as the MLB shutdown dragged on, Neustrom and others were in trouble. Then the league and the Players Association canceled the Rule 5 draft this offseason, a move that left players like Neustrom and southpaw Nick Vespi in limbo.

Players selected in the draft must remain on the major league roster for the following season or be offered back to the original team for half of the $100,000 draft fee. At this point, either Neustrom or Vespi could make his major league debut elsewhere than playing in Triple-A.

“You can always say I can,” Vespi said. “But everything happens for a reason. I’m here. I still have a chance to be successful here.”

It’s that mentality that drives Neustrom and Vespi, who remain out of Baltimore’s 40-man roster but are driven to make their major league debuts at the clubs that drafted them. They have no choice but to accept any lingering disappointment from the cancellation of the Rule 5 draft and prove they belong with the Orioles.

Both players are doing their part. Heading into Wednesday, Vespi recorded four saves and allowed threes in 13 1/3 innings from the bullpen. Neustrom hit .278 with five homers, five steals and 16 RBIs.

Talks with surrogates and family members began with disappointment when the draft Rule 5 was scrapped. But Vespi and Neustrom bounced back quickly, and a renewed focus on what they can do to the group is worth watching.

Vespi wanted to hit the strike zone more, and he did with Tuesday’s save, going 1 2/3 innings without a hit. Neustrom’s goal is to improve his defense and dispel scouts’ doubts about his ability in all three outfield positions. He wants to work on making swing decisions and lower his chasing rate.

These were the improvements they wanted to make whether or not to implement draft article 5.

“Everything they do is for a reason,” Newstrom said. “They took away rule 5 and this happened to be my rule 5 year. That’s what happened. Honestly, man, I can honestly say that when it did happen, I definitely got hurt , but at the same time I already know the mission at hand. My mission is to get into the big leagues. It’s not going to be easy for anyone. I know that if I come here and work hard and do what I need to do, I I’m sure someone will see it, whether it’s the Orioles or someone else.”

Both Vespi and Neustrom were invited to major league spring training to work in front of Orioles staff and executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias. Vespi met Elias, and while he didn’t make it to the majors, he left camp feeling valued.

“I’ll be there when the time comes,” Vespi said. “Let’s go.”

And for Newstrom, the initial “heartbreak” of scrapping draft article 5 would only strengthen his resolve. He knew there was no guarantee he would be selected. If it did happen, he might be in the same position as he is now, fighting for attention among a group of high-ranking prospects.

As a high school student, though, he held the position and proved his worth for Iowa State. So the task ahead, although daunting in nature, was not something he would shy away from.

“You look around and there’s a lot of competition,” Neustrom said. “I’ve got a job set up for me. Everyone does. The mountain I have to climb is high. I want to do it, you know what I mean? I’m here right now and I’m with the Orioles. I think Help the Orioles win. That’s my goal. I want to be on a team that I know I’m making a difference to. And, I want to be on a team that has a culture of winning, and I think with all the things we have here at the Orioles Talent, it happens one day and I would love to be a part of it.”


US News.

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