It doesn’t take long to identify Josh Báez on a baseball field or to figure out why he’s the most highly regarded high school prospect out of Massachusetts in decades. There just aren’t a lot of players who, at 18, stand 6 feet 3 inches and 220 pounds, and do the things he does on a field.
At a showcase event at the home of the minor league Hartford Yard Goats, he hit a homer that cleared the scoreboard. On the mound, he sits comfortably in the low to mid 90s while touching 98. In the outfield, he combines elite arm strength with excellent range.
It’s a combination that drew dozens of scouts to nearly every one of his games with the Dexter Southfield prep school team this spring.
“You work hard for it, so when people come out, take time out of their days to come scout you, it just feels good,” said Báez. “It helps me with exposure, and it helps my other classmates as well to give them more exposure.”
Báez is viewed as a potential late-first-round selection in next month’s amateur draft. The recent Dexter Southfield graduate, who has a commitment to Vanderbilt if he doesn’t sign, could become the first Massachusetts high school prospect to get selected in the first round since Peabody’s Jeff Allison in 2003 (16th by the Marlins).
In his 16-game senior season, Báez hit .378/.531/.622 with 3 homers, 16 walks, and 8 strikeouts in 64 plate appearances. In 18 innings on the mound, he had a 1.94 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 21 walks. While there’s still considerable development in front of him — no surprise, given his age and the fact that he, like everyone else, lost his 2020 campaign to the COVID-19 pandemic — his potential is dazzling.
“I’ve been in touch with David Ortiz and his father, just talking baseball and kind of talking about his career and where he sees me,” said Báez. “He said he loves everything about me.
“I have a bunch of tools, I have the physical side of it, and I have the world in my hands. I just need to stay focused and continue to work hard and everything else will come.”
While Báez has the arm strength to pursue a career on the mound, his prospect status is built primarily around the outfield — with the possibility of center field but a skill set that is better suited for right.
He shows prodigious power potential when he barrels the ball, but there are concerns about how frequently that will happen, given his size and the fact that he did swing and miss at pitches in the strike zone in high school. That underscores the uncertainty about his future — but it’s the sort of risk that teams historically are willing to take on high school players with huge upside.
“The comparison for me would be George Springer,” said Dexter Southfield coach Danny Donato. “I coached against him when he was at Avon Old Farms. They’re very, very similar. Josh has a little better tool set at this age. Not saying he’ll become George Springer, but he has a little better tool set.
“His tools are off the charts. Whether he puts them together, that has yet to be seen, but if he puts it all together, he’s a superstar in MLB.”
The conversations between Báez and the scouts who have tracked him have had familiar themes.
“I talk to professional scouts every single day,” Báez said. “They all say that I have a bunch of tools, a bunch of talent, a bunch of potential to be a major leaguer one day, but obviously that comes with more things that have to be polished. There’s a lot more work that needs to be done. I’m all for it.”
Indeed, few doubt Báez’s passion to play or improve. He was born in Boston but moved to the Dominican Republic as an infant before he and his family came back to Boston when he was 11. As he acclimated to a new culture, baseball fields helped him find a sense of home.
“It was where I made my friends,” he said. “Up to this day, my closest friends — the guys I train with and am with pretty much every day — are from baseball.”
With his high school season over, Báez is playing this summer for the Boston Blue Jays of the Park League while waiting for his future to take shape. While players who project to go as early as Báez does typically avoid playing in the weeks before the draft to minimize the risk of injury, Báez didn’t want to deny himself that joy, especially after the lost year.
Within a few weeks, he may be starting his professional career — or in a few months, he may be on his way to Vanderbilt. Either way, Báez insists he’s less concerned about where in the draft he gets selected than he is appreciative for the possibilities that are unfolding.
“I’m not looking to go anywhere,” he said. “I’m not really worried about the draft. We’re going day by day, and we’ll see on draft day where I end up, but I’m not stressing about anything.
“I know I have a commitment to a really good school. With the draft, it’s just seeing what happens. It’s not that complicated.”