NYC preseason baseball: No. 3 Grand St. Campus
Melvin Martinez can’t help but smile when talking about his uber-talented lineup. And who can blame him when he's returning one of the most talented teams in the city largely intact?
“The kids are on a mission, they know that they’re good,” said the Grand Street head coach. “We are a better team than we were last season. We lost Williams Jerez from our starting line-up but we’ve also made big gains. Everyone else has added at least 10 pounds of muscle. They are a year smarter and a year stronger. That’s what makes us scary.”
Led by a senior group headlined by Maryland commits Jose Cuas and Xaverian transfer Kevin Martir, the Wolves are a team perfectly positioned for a big run. And after falling to Tottenville in the Class A semifinals, Grand Street’s resolve is only strengthened given the maturation of its talent.
“We went to the semis and to lose to Tottenville last season after we beat them in the Monroe tournament was disappointing,” Cuas said. “We return a lot of guys, we’re more mature, and everybody has worked hard this winter.”
“We need to make sure we play together as a team,” said junior first baseman Geraldo Gonzalaz. “We were the number one team in the city after the Monroe tournament and after we won, we started to slide a little bit. It was tough to lose last year the way we did.”
Cuas batted .620 with 28 runs scored and 34 RBIs last season and is one of the city’s best overall talents. He will be looked to for his leadership as well as his hitting skills.
“Simply put, Jose Cuas is a very special ball player,” Martinez said. “He had a brilliant season last year. He started his career with us when he was a freshman at 14 years old. He started playing shortstop in his sophomore year and he just blossomed and got stronger. The next thing you know he had a stellar junior year and now we’re talking about one of the best out there.”
“My personal goal is to carry this team and set an example as a senior,” said Cuas. “I try to kill myself in practice to motivate my teammates to do better.”
Martinez looks at his lineup and can comfortably say that it could very well be the most talented team he’s ever had in his cumulative 12 years of coaching baseball.
“I’ve always had one or two players that have been very, very good but never a team like this,” Martinez said. “My top nine players are studs and I have five stud pitchers. That’s unheard of.”
“My top seven players can easily be the third or fourth hitter in any other A division or B division team in the city,” Martinez said.
It’s shocking to think that a team that has lost Red Sox second round draft pick Jerez and starting pitcher Luis Hiraldo could potentially be more dangerous, but that’s exactly how things are shaping up.
“It’s like I lost Jerez but I gained a fantastic player in Kevin Martir,” Martinez said. “With the hitting and the defensive side of the game, it’s like we haven’t skipped a beat. We also lost Hiraldo, but we have an amazing pitching staff. As far as the pitching is concerned, Jason Plasencia looks like he’s come around. He’s getting a huge opportunity this year and I’m pretty sure he’ll fill Hiraldo’s shoes pretty nicely for us.”
“I expect to add leadership, a big bat, and fielding to this already amazing team,” Martir said.
With all the attention that teams will have to pay to the abundance of talented seniors on the team, Martinez singled out two juniors on his team whom he could not help but heap with praise, based on what he’s seen from them in the early goings.
“Elijah Rodriguez and Kelvin Flores are two juniors that are just going to be scary and I have them batting first and second in my lineup,” Martinez said. “They are going to be spectacular for us. When everyone is focusing on Cuas, Ernesto Lopez, and Martir, watch out New York City, you’re going to get a wake-up call. These are going to be my next two big prospects for next season.”
Despite all the promise of things to come, nothing is guaranteed in the PSAL and winning is not a given no matter how talented of a roster you have. While the team has collective visions of a championship, many of the players as well as Martinez recognize that it will be just as important that they take care of the intangibles this season if they want to get over the proverbial hump and make to finals this season.
“I want them to always understand that they won’t play every game like the New York Yankees,” Martinez said. “There are going to be games where things are not going to go their way. They must understand that all good teams find a way to win it.”