Royals Pitcher Jose Cuas Goes from FedEx Driver to Major Leagues, Completing Inspirational Journey

by Bryan Fyalkowski
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During the canceled MiLB season due to COVID-19 in 2020, pitcher Jose Cuas delivered for FedEx during the day and trained at night. Last night, the 27-year-old made his MLB debut for the Kansas City Royals.

The righty pitched one scoreless inning of relief, which included his first-career strikeout on a 95-mile-per-hour fastball.

“I still haven’t processed the fact that I just pitched in a big-league game,” he said in a post-game interview. “I’m feeling my body now. This is actually the first time I’ve felt my legs since I’ve been here. It was fun, it was definitely more than I dreamed of.”

Taking the Road Less Traveled

Cuas (pronounced Kwaas) has had a long road to the majors. He was born in the Dominican Republic but grew up in New York City. Out of high school, he went to the University of Maryland, where he was an infielder for three years before being selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 11th round of the 2015 MLB Draft.

After two years in the Milwaukee system as an infielder hitting under the Mendoza Line, Cuas was released. He then signed with an independent team near his hometown, the Long Island Ducks, and became a full-time pitcher.

Cuas pitched only 23 innings for Long Island, switching from pitching overhand to a more sidearm slot that might make the hitters he faced more uncomfortable. It was actually former MLB All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez – also known as K-Rod – who first suggested the arm angle change to Cuas. Rodriguez was 36 years old at the time and trying to just hang on to his baseball career with one more year on the 2018 Ducks.

In those 22.2 innings in the Atlantic League, Cuas produced a 2.38 ERA, which caught the attention of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. Arizona signed Cuas prior to the 2019 season and pitched really well – a 1.60 ERA in 45 frames – across three of the Diamondbacks’ minor league teams.

‘You Are Not Going to Quit’

But then COVID-19 hit. The 2020 MiLB season was canceled and Arizona released Cuas. He wanted to quit, but his longtime girlfriend, Anais, persuaded him not to.

“I told him, ‘Don’t you dare do that. You are not going to quit. We did not sacrifice all this for you to quit,’” she said in an interview with MLB.com’s Anne Rogers. “I was sacrificing a lot, yeah, and it was a crazy time – it still is – but we’ve come so far. And it was worth it.”

With Cuas chasing his dream, Anais was getting the brunt of raising their son – who is now four years old – Jose. She was also pregnant at the time with their daughter – who is now one year old – Annalise.

Instead of hanging up the cleats for good, Cuas would train with his brother, Alex, at night. All the while he was making a living working for FedEx during the day, delivering packages in the city.

But Cuas’ journey was far from over. That offseason, he went down to play in the Dominican Winter League. He pitched only five innings, but caught the eye of Tony Peña, Jr., who is a coach for Kansas City. The Royals signed Cuas and he performed well in the minors, pitching a total of 42 innings – with 44 strikeouts and a minuscule 1.51 ERA – and reaching Triple-A Omaha in the process.

Cuas impressed the Royals during 2022 Spring Training, but was still sent down to the minors as the season began. But with Kansas City struggling early (with a 16-32 record) and continued success on the mound, he finally got called up with the team in Cleveland this week to face the Indians.

Phew. Talk about a journey.

Family’s Unconditional Support

Cuas’ family was in the stands cheering him on, and you could tell it meant the world for them to see his dream finally realized.

“We have gone through so much just to get here,” Anais said. “There are just so many emotions. I’m just so happy. This is his dream … It’s been a rollercoaster, what he’s had to go through. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows or happy stories. He’s been through so much and that was always his goal. And now, whether it’s an inning, a couple of seasons, or 10 years, he got it.”

Throughout nearly 150 years of professional baseball – starting with the first year of the National League in 1876 – there have been only 20,100 players to appear in a game in the majors. Cuas can finally call himself part of that exclusive club.

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