In the eyes of his coach at the Dexter Southfield School in Brookline, Joshua Baez is a true five-tool player.
“He’s got major league tools all over the place,” said Dan Donato, who played four minor league seasons in the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays organizations.
“I coached against George Springer, now the leadoff hitter for the Houston Astros, when he was in high school at Avon Old Farms and Joshua is there, if not better.”
Baez, a 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound junior center fielder from Dorchester, runs the 60-yard dash in 6.4 seconds, easily clearing the MLB average of 6.9 seconds. At the plate, he’s hit over .400 at every level so far and possesses 400-foot plus power to all fields. And although pitcher is his secondary position, Baez’s fastball recently topped out at a personal-best 95 miles per hour in a bullpen session.
“I’ve seen him hit balls that I don’t even know if they’ve landed,” said Christian Ortiz, who’s coached Baez in travel ball since he was 13. “Josh is the kid who always asks ‘What can I do to be better?’ He’s hungry and he loves the game.”
A week ago, he was selected as the state’s 2020 Gatorade Player of the Year.
Baez started playing baseball at 9 when his family lived in the Dominican Republic in Santo Domingo, following in the footsteps of his father, Jose Manuel, who played professional softball and baseball in the Dominican Republic. The Baez family moved from Santo Domingo to Dorchester when Joshua was 11; his game took flight soon after.
In Little League, Baez captured the state’s home run derby and then made the varsity at Cristo Rey as a freshman. As a sophomore last spring playing for Ortiz at Snowden High, he helped lead the Cougars to the Boston City League title, serving as the team’s ace while hitting .442 with 20 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.
He also added 40 pounds of muscle as a freshman and sophomore, filling out his frame and paving the way for a breakout summer season.
“I knew I had some talent and that I needed to just polish it,” said the 16-year-old Baez. “We just worked hard with my coaches and it really helped me get where I am today.”
Last summer, college coaches and scouts became familiar with Baez’s name as he traveled across the country partaking in some of the top amateur showcases and AAU tournaments.
Playing for Ortiz’s Boston Blue Jays team at the prestigious Black Bear Tournament in South Carolina, Baez reached 88 m.p.h. on the mound and hit his first home run of the summer. In August, representing the Yankees at the Area Code Games in Compton, Calif., he ran the fastest 60-yard dash time at the showcase.
His breakout performance came Labor Day weekend at a tournament in Atlanta, where Baez recorded two home runs, three doubles, a triple, and topped 90 m.p.h. on the bump. His team, Beast Mode Prime, won the tournament and Baez was named MVP.
He started to attract interest from elite college programs, and in the fall, Baez took an official visit to Vanderbilt. On his second to last day in Nashville, Commodores coach Tim Corbin, a New Hampshire native who recruits heavily in the Northeast, presented an official offer. Baez gave a verbal commitment.
“It was a really good fit for me because they really like diversity players and players from all over the country,” Baez said. “I love the coaches and the facilities. I knew that was the school for me.”
To prepare for the academic rigor at Vanderbilt, Baez wanted to finish high school at a private school. Ryan Hernandez, a former Dexter baseball star who now plays first base for the University of Houston, encouraged his childhood friend and hitting partner to apply to Dexter.
Baez enrolled in the fall for his junior year. He was set to be the starting center fielder and a key member of Dexter’s pitching rotation this spring before COVID-19 canceled the season. In preseason workouts, Donato watched Baez consistently smack 450-foot home runs in batting practice.
“There was one time when he hits two balls out and then on the third swing he says ‘Ugh!’ and he’s kind of frustrated,” Donato recalled. “I turn around and look and the ball lands 40 feet beyond the left field fence and I was like ‘Oh my God, this is ridiculous.’ I think he could be a first-round draft pick and I’ve never said that about a kid ever.”
In a video released by MLB Network in February, analyst Harold Reynolds invited Baez to USA Baseball’s Prospect Development Pipeline, a three-week long showcase in California featuring the top 80 high school players in the country. Although the event was cancelled due to the pandemic, Baez is still lined up to play in other showcases this summer in Alabama and Florida as he prepares for his senior season of high school with the hopes of becoming a more consistent player.
Ortiz said he and Baez frequently watch hitting videos of Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton, and break down their swings. Baez’s ultimate goal is to play in the major leagues, but he plans on honoring his college commitment to Vanderbilt first.
“We see those guys and we say let’s try to see what they do and let’s get to that,” Ortiz said. “Josh has the speed. He has the power. Defensively he’s there. He’s got the arm strength. He wants to be the best and get to that level where he can compete with the top guys.”