A one-time walk-on became the Iowa’s highest position player selected in baseball’s annual free agent draft in 26 years on Tuesday, the first of two Hawkeyes chosen in the first eight rounds.
Robert Neustrom, a junior outfielder who earned first-team all-Big Ten honors this season, was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the fifth round of the 2018 draft and he expects to forego his final season of eligibility.
“It’s been a nerve wracking few days, not knowing how it was all going to play out, but it happened the way people said it would,’’ Neustrom said. “I’m excited about it. It’s a dream come true and I have a chance now to go out and do what I’ve always wanted to do, play professional baseball.’’
Baltimore selected Neustrom with the 145th pick in this year’s draft, a position that carries a slot value of $361,000 and one that is right in line with where the Sioux City native was being told he could go in this year’s draft class.
“Until the call comes, you just never know,’’ Neustrom said.
One thing Neustrom does know is that he has no plans to change his approach to the game.
“Iowa was the only Division I program that gave me a chance,’’ he said. “The coaches said if I came in and worked hard that I could earn an opportunity. I think that gave me a bit of a chip on my shoulder that I’ve carried with me ever since, having to prove myself every day. That won’t change. That’s baseball.’’
Neustrom is the highest-drafted position player Iowa has had since Danan Hughes was selected in the third round by Milwaukee with the 75th pick overall in the 1992 draft.
The 16th Hawkeye to be drafted in coach Rick Heller’s five seasons at Iowa went three rounds before senior catcher Tyler Cropley was picked by the Nationals.
Neustrom initially caught the attention of scouts with his performance during an all-star season last summer in the Cape Cod League, success that carried over to his play with the Hawkeyes this spring.
He batted .311 with 15 doubles and 11 home runs this season, ranking in the top 10 in the Big Ten in both statistical categories. He also shared the Iowa team lead with 43 runs while driving in 36.
In 166 career games as a Hawkeye, he hit .310 and started the final 116 games he played, earning second team all-Big Ten honors as a sophomore before joining Cropley and pitcher Nick Allgeyer as first-team picks this spring.
Cropley was the 251st overall pick of the draft. The McCook Lake, South Dakota, native earned all-American honors and was a semifinalist for the John Bench Award. He led Iowa with a .342 batting average, 68 hits, 20 doubles and 50 RBI.
Earlier Tuesday, Illinois junior first baseman Bren Spillane became the highest drafted position player in Fighting Illini history when the Reds selected the Big Ten player of the year in third round with the 82nd overall pick in the draft.
Spillane hit .389 with 23 home runs, 60 RBI and 16 stolen bases this spring while becoming the first NCAA Division I player with a slugging percentage of .900 or better since 2009.
Illinois right-handed pitcher Joey Gerber was also drafted Tuesday, selected by the Mariners in the eighth round of the draft which concludes today with rounds 11-40.