Former Maryland Star Jose Cuas On Why He Didn’t Give Up Big League Dreams

By late 2018, former Maryland third baseman Jose Cuas had taken a job at FedEx to put food on the table for his son. Mentally, baseball was in the rearview.

But a nudge from his brother, Alex, brought it back into focus. Alex explained to Jose that he should give baseball a second chance, and the two began training in the evenings at a Brooklyn, N.Y., park after Jose got off from his day job.

Now a member of the Kansas City Royals’ bullpen, Cuas credits three people for his second chance at the game he loves: his son (also named Jose), his brother and Francisco Rodriguez.

“[My son] was a huge reason as to why I decided to listen to my brother,” Cuas said on Glenn Clark Radio June 7. “I look at him and say, ‘If I quit, when he’s older and understands what’s going on, he’s going to look at his father as a person who quit on his dreams.’ What kind of message would I be sending to my son?”

Jose Cuas
Jose Cuas (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

Cuas, 27, had a successful career as an infielder in College Park and was a member of the 2014 and 2015 Super Regional teams. He was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 11th round in 2015. Cuas began his professional career at third base but quickly realized a change was likely necessary to keep his big league dreams alive. His struggles against pro pitching would almost surely keep him from ever reaching the major leagues as an infielder.

Cuas spoke with his brother and agent about becoming a pitcher. They supported it, and so did the Brewers. But shortly after making the move in 2018, he was cut. An opportunity for Cuas to continue perfecting his new craft arose in independent ball with the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League in 2018. There, he met a longtime big league reliever and former Oriole in Rodriguez, nicknamed “K-Rod.”

The two got to work on his throwing motion. What began as an over-the-top arm slot shifted to a sidearm delivery. To Cuas, it felt like a throw from third base, something he’d done thousands of times and was much more comfortable with.

“It was natural for me,” Cuas said. “I was like, ‘This feels a lot better, a lot less stress on my arm than throwing over the top.'”

Rodriguez gave Cuas another piece of advice. Rather than a tweak to his mechanics, this was a tip on how to mentally attack every outing. It’s stuck with Cuas ever since.

“He said, ‘When you’re on that mound, everybody that reaches first base on you — whether it be a hit, walk, whatever it is — is taking food away from your kid’s plate,'” Cuas said. “When I’m on the mound now, even at the big league level, that’s what I’m thinking about. … No one’s going to take food away from my kid’s plate.”

Now with a new position, new arm angle and a new outlook on pitching, Cuas attacked professional baseball again, with that push from his brother helping him along. He pitched in the Diamondbacks organization in 2019 but was released in 2020 after the pandemic hit.

Cuas began the 2021 season back with the Ducks but signed with the Royals last June. Cuas pitched to a 1.95 ERA for Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2021. He pitched to a 1.74 ERA for Triple-A Omaha this year.

Cuas’ story to the major leagues isn’t one that lacked doubt or a desire to quit. He thought about just that in 2018 and again in 2020. If not for his brother, he’d likely not be where he is today.

Cuas sports a 1.08 ERA and seven strikeouts in nine relief appearances for the Royals entering play June 17. In 2.1 innings across two games against the Orioles recently, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-hander struck out three and allowed just one run.

Cuas made his big league debut against the Cleveland Guardians May 31. Coincidentally, former Towson star Richie Palacios is an outfielder for the Guardians. Palacios played at Towson with Cuas’ brother, Alex. After the game, Cuas and Palacios embraced and shared a hug.

But it wasn’t nearly as special as the one he shared with his brother. The two didn’t get the chance to fully appreciate the moment on the phone. Cuas was frantically trying to join the Royals as fast as he could and only had time for a quick phone call to tell his brother to pack his bags and head to Cleveland.

It all truly set in for the brothers after the game. They shared a tight hug, and Alex offered a reminder of where the journey began.

“We spoke about this five years ago,” Alex told Jose. “Look at it. Here we are.”

For more from Cuas, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Kansas City Royals