Grading the 2022 KC Royals: Relief pitcher Jose Cuas

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

After toiling in the minors and independent ball since 2015, José Cuas made it to the major leagues late last May. But the KC Royals reliever traveled a bumpy road getting there.

Toronto drafted him in 2012 but, taking the chance he might not get drafted again, he cast his lot with college ball instead. The Brewers picked him in the 11th round three years later and the young infielder seemed to confirm the potential in his bat by hitting a respectable .260 with seven homers that summer in Rookie ball.

But he spent the next two seasons proving he wasn’t much of a hitter, batting .170 in High-A in 2016 and .187 in a 2017 season split between High-A and A.

Undaunted, Cuas switched gears and became a pitcher. The transition started, and soon came to a halt, in 2018 at Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Class A affiliate; Cuas was 2-0 after 13 relief appearances, but had an ugly 8.38 ERA when the organization released him in July. He caught on with Long Island in the independent Atlantic League and pitched well enough that the Diamondbacks signed him the following spring.

Cuas wasted no time progressing as a hurler in 2019—over 26 games in A and High-A, he gave up only eight earned runs in 45 innings (1.60 ERA) and went 6-3 with 10 saves. COVID-19 canceled the 2020 minor league season and Cuas, cut loose suddenly by Arizona, landed back with Long Island to begin the 2021 campaign.

The Royals, a team in search of pitching, came calling in late June.

KC Royals reliever José Cuas has flourished since signing with the club.

After Kansas City signed Cuas away from Long Island, he quickly advanced from Rookie ball to Double-A Northwest Arkansas before ending the 2021 season at Triple-A Omaha. Finding Cuas and bringing the side-arming righthander into the organization turned out to be shrewd indeed—he finished his 27-game, three-level campaign 5-1 with a 1.51 ERA, three saves, a 1.73 BB/9, and a 9.50 SO/9.

The Royals invited Cuas to spring training this year and some good Cactus League work helped boost his chances to pitch in the majors. He got there in May; the Royals optioned him back to the Storm Chasers in early August, recalled him a week later, then sent him down with six days left in the big league season.

So, how did the rookie perform while with Kansas City?

Not badly. Manager Mike Matheny called on him 47 times and he went 4-2 with a 3.58 ERA and one save. He grabbed his first big league win June 15 when, after relieving Taylor Clarke in the bottom of the seventh inning against San Francisco and securing the last two outs and getting an out in the eighth before giving way to Scott Barlow, he received the benefit of the go-ahead run his teammates had provided in the top of the eighth.

His first major league save came at home Aug. 9 against the White Sox when, with one out and the tying run on, he replaced Dylan Coleman and retired Josh Harrison and Yasmani Grandal to preserve KC’s 4-2 win.

He also struck out the first big league hitter he faced by getting Cleveland’s Oscar Mercado swinging May 31.

Cuas still needs work, however. He walked too many batters (24 in 37.2 innings, a 5.73 BB/9), but that control issue may be an outlier considering his much better minor league career 2.66 BB/9.

All in all, Cuas’ 2022 performance was commendable. We’ll give him a solid B.

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José Cuas had a good introduction to the majors.