Another prep outfielder dripping with tools
It’s a good year for prep outfielders with size, projectable talent, and a bevy of tools. For as impressive as James Wood, Benny Montgomery, and Daylen Lile are, Boston, Mass., outfielder Joshua Baez may be the cream of the crop. His blend of present performance, athleticism and future impact can’t be matched.
At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Baez is a load. He’s a big, strong, physical outfielder who projects to hit for big power at the next level. He’s a fantastic athlete with eye-popping run times and he’s been up to 97 on the mound too. Baez can do it all. At this point, scouts only question is what direction the entire toolbox goes.
A senior at Dexter Southfield HS, Baez is seemingly cut from a different cloth than most guys his age. He’s all business, and that translates onto the baseball field. Baez lives in the gym, sometimes spending as much as 15 hours per week refining his body and craft. It shows in his sculpted, ultra-physical frame.
“You gotta be physically ready,” Baez said in an interview with me this winter. “... lifting, doing flexibility, mobility, stability, as well as strength work with the weights. That’s a huge part of my offseason work to be ready when the season comes around.”
That training has put Baez’s body into a place where it can achieve things other preps simple cannot. He doesn’t train to pitch. He never has. He’s hardly worked on his mechanics, or refined his craft as an arm. He’s an outfielder through and through. But as a high school senior, and the most talented player on his Dexter Southfield squad, he’s been asked to take the bump in games. Indeed, without any proper training, Baez touches 97 in-game. It’s a testament to routine and his entire body of work.
“My velo has just kind of gone up over time,” Baez said. “Because of my training, I train so hard that when I get on the mound it’s just, it’s really just easy. It’s impressive to others, but it’s just... it’s just easy to me.”
High ceiling cold weather bats like Baez have become increasingly popular selections in the MLB Draft. Young, promising North Easterners have become commonplace near the top, and Baez figures to continue to push that trend.
In 2020, Pennsylvania outfielder Austin Hendrick got popped no. 12 by the Reds. 2019 saw the Yankees grab New Jersey infielder Anthony Volpe at the end of the first round. The Pirates grabbed Pennsylvania outfielder Sammy Siani at no. 37. Even going back to 2018, the Mets grabbed Jarred Kelenic no. 6 overall. Admittedly, he’s not technically a “North Eastern” guy, but Wisconsin is about as cold as it gets.
Cold weather bats have gained in popularity because, while maybe cliché, they’re beating the odds. These guys can’t play most of the year. They train, and they train hard. Their bats are proven in the elements. Nothing against California or Arizona bats, but hitting in 80 degree weather every day doesn’t test the mind and mental fortitude like taking 90mph in on the hands on a 38 degree day.
Baez has the makeup and physicality to be a star at the big league level.
Tools (Future Value)
Maybe the biggest question mark on Baez’s future impact will be if he can hit enough to reach his all-star potential.
Baez employs a wide, slightly open stance with higher-set hands with his weight squarely set in his back hip. His stride has varied throughout the last calendar year. There’s some drift in his body as the pitcher comes to the plate, so timing has given his some trouble, especially against advanced breaking stuff.
Despite the higher hands, Baez does a really good job with his bat path, moving direct to the ball without any extra hitch. For this reason, I like where the hit tool is headed. As his approach matures, he continues to develop rhythm and timing, and his bat-to-ball skills improve, I think Baez is going to hit enough to make an impact at the Big League level.
The entire package at the plate isn’t too dissimilar from how Aaron Judge sets up. The bat speed for Baez is easy and real. He may never hit enough to win batting titles, but Baez’s bat has the makings of a middle-of-the-order stick.
Baez’s calling card is the juice, and there’s a lot of it. There’s a healthy bit of loft in this swing. Couple that with the pure bat speed and Baez certainly has the tools to be a pretty significant power threat as a pro. We might be talking about 70-grade raw power.
Joshua Baez doing Joshua Baez things. Takes this hanging 85 mph slider from Max Debiec 400ft to left center field for a triple. Didn't get all of it, was out in front. Huge power from this kid. Arrow continues pointing up ⬆️ pic.twitter.com/FKz0tJcwLc— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) September 4, 2020
Given his size, there’s already significant physicality here that is hard to match at this age. It’s easy to project a 6-foot-4, 230-pound future frame with huge strength considering his work ethic and love for the gym. Baez has the potential to fit in the mold of a Judge or Giancarlo Stanton, or Dave Winfield body-type. Now, let me stress, this is not me comparing Baez to those types of players. This is merely comparing frames. Those are lofty bodies to live up to, but considering where he’s starting at 18-years-old, the point can be made.
If it all clicks, Baez could be a 30-homer guy. The hit tool will need to buoy at a healthy enough level to allow the power to play, but that’s the sort of pop we’re talking about here.
I've talked to a few big league execs in scouting departments who think Baez is a surefire first rounder next July. The raw power is massive and he's beginning to tap into it in-game. Arm is huge out of RF. Plus runner too. He'll bat 11th today for East.pic.twitter.com/lE8224I1qT— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) September 4, 2020
Maybe the most impressive thing about Baez is not his size and impact in the box, but rather the athleticism and his peripheral tools.
Right now, today, Baez is a plus runner. That’s right, at 220 pounds, Baez is running better than almost all of his peers. He’s recorded 60-yard dash times sub 6.7 seconds and I’ve clocked him home-to-first in the 4.18 to 4.21 range. That’s pretty sublime athleticism for a guy his size.
It’s a violent, angry running style. Baez isn’t feather-footed. That said, he’s not lumbering either. It’s just an extremely physical, long stride that probably won’t age or depreciate linearly.
I do think the run tool will regress a bit by the time he debuts. My guess would be as he continues to add strength and puts more miles on the legs, as well as settling into a corner outfield role, he’ll slow down a tick.
This may come as a shock to you, but a guy who can accidentally throw 97 mph off the mound has a really good arm.
A double-plus grade is aggressive, but there’s really no reason not to grade Baez out anything lower. Mechanically, it’s a long, athletic, healthy arm stroke that showcases tons of carry. Baez throws seeds that keep low to the ground and travel on a line. There are times he over-throws a bit, but those examples are more often than not in showcase settings where he’s looking to drop jaws.
Baez has been clocked at 97 mph from the outfield on crow hops too, a number that slots in at the very top of the class alongside Montgomery.
Baez is still playing centerfield at this stage. He’ll assuredly move into a corner at the next level where his tools will really play up. Above average may be a shade conservative on this front, but admittedly, I haven’t seen Baez given the opportunity to tracks balls into gaps. He rounds into grounds balls with fluidity though, and the arm will obviously play. There stands reason this should be a grade higher, but for the time being, considering my unfamiliarity, I have to play it safe and throw an above average grade on it.
Baez has as much superstar potential in this draft as absolutely anybody. The power, the speed, and arm, he could be a complete player. Baez hit tool will ultimately dictate how high he can take his profile at the big league level, but he’s shown reasons mechanically why it will work. Couple that with the attitude, personality and work ethic and all the building blocks are there for a big league stud.