Grand Street’s Cuas picks on-the-rise Maryland

Jose Cuas had plenty of high-major Division I schools after him, from St. John’s to Florida State, Boston College and Villanova. They were all a distant second to Maryland.

It was Maryland who first saw Cuas at the Area Code Games tryouts and followed him around the rest of the summer; Maryland who presented him the opportunity to start as a freshman; and Maryland that was offering a full scholarship, rare for a New York City baseball player.

“That’s as good as it gets right there,” said Grand Street Campus’ slick-fielding 6-foot-3 shortstop. “That’s what I wanted — to save my parents money — and go to a school where I can develop.”

Cuas, 16, didn’t bother dragging out the process after an unofficial visit to the ACC school. He verbally committed to third-year coach Erik Bakich recently. Though the Terrapins went 21-35 overall and 5-25 in the ACC a year ago, that was the first with Bakich’s nationally ranked recruiting class.

A former assistant at national powerhouse Vanderbilt for seven years, 22 of Bakich’s recruits were drafted, five — including Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price — in the first round.

“It’s a rising program, they got a new coaching staff with the intention of getting to the College World Series,” said Cuas, who hit an impressive .620, bashed four home runs, had 34 RBIs and scored 28 times, helping Grand Street reach the final four for the first time in five years. “I think my year going in we’re going to make things happen.”

There is no guarantee Cuas will end up in College Park — he is one of the city’s top prospects. His summer ball coach with the New York Grays, David Owens, said in the last year Cuas has improved his lateral movement at shortstop, has gained arm strength, reduced his 60-yard dash time and is hitting for more power. Owens said he’s been told by scouts Cuas could go in the top five rounds of next June’s First-Year Player Draft.

One scout familiar with Cuas said it would be too early to determine how high he is taken, but sees the possibility.

“He has a very projectable frame that will comfortably carry 25 more pounds, and he has a lot of pro tools,” the scout said. “He reminds me of a younger Hanley Ramirez-type player.”

For now, Cuas isn’t concerned about next June. If he goes high enough — in the top 10 rounds, he said — the Brooklyn native would consider going pro. But he is as equally thrilled with the alternative of joining an up-and-coming program in one of the top conferences in the country.

“I just had a bunch of weight lifted off my shoulders,” he said. “I can relax and play ball. Before I committed, I had to make sure I performed every game, make sure college coaches liked me. Now I can just focus on baseball, school and working out. I’m already going to college for free.”