By Rob Rains
There are a couple of examples that Dan Donato, the baseball coach at Dexter Southfield High School outside of Boston, can point to that he believes gives a little insight into Joshua Baez, who was drafted by the Cardinals on Monday.
“This kid is a worker,” Donato said in a telephone interview. “There are guys that have a work ethic and then there is the next level work ethic and that’s what he has. He will go through a 2 ½ hour practice and then stay for another hour to hit. He’s one of those guys. He’s strong as an ox. This kid is impressive.
“The thing I love most about Josh is that he is the hardest working kid always on our team. He will come out of the cage taking a break from hitting and he will go over and work with another kid on the team, like a good teammate. It’s just really impressive.”
At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Baez also is impressive physically. He turned 18 two weeks ago, making him one of the youngest players in the draft. A right-handed hitter, the Cardinals believe he can stay in center field, but also could make a successful move to right field if necessary because of an above-average arm. He also pitched this spring for his high school team, hitting 98 miles per hour on the radar gun.
“I can throw hard off the mound, but the bat is what I put my money on,” Baez said on Monday in a telephone interview.
Baez, who is committed to Vanderbilt but is expected to sign with the Cardinals, was the first of their 10 selections on day 2 of the draft, and both he and his coach could not have been happier he was selected in the second round by the Cardinals, the 54th overall pick in the draft.
“I’m over the moon that he’s with the Cardinals,” Donato said. “It’s a steal, an absolute steal. This kid could maybe be a little hit or miss and I think it’s probably why he slipped a little but as far as tools, nobody in the draft has better tools than this kid. Nobody.”
Donato played in the minor leagues with the Yankees and Rays before becoming a coach, so he has that background to be able to compare Baez to professional players he has seen.
“I saw all their first-round guys and this kid’s tools are off the chart,” Donato said. “He hit a 550 foot home run over the scoreboard at the Area Code games at the Double A stadium in Hartford. He ran the fastest 60 in the country. He’s a beast, he’s got a real presence.
“He’s got all the tools. If he puts the package together the Cardinals could be laughing at this draft. I really believe that.”
The Cardinals had a scout, or scouts, at almost all of Baez’s 16 games this spring and many of his practices. But given the quality of pitching, and weather concerns, in the prep ranks in the Northeast, it was what they saw on the summer circuit that stood out to them.
“He really showed himself well this past summer,” said Randy Flores, the Cardinals’ assistant general manager and director of scouting. “Sometimes when you get a player from the Northeast you wonder what that learning curve is going to look like when they are facing adanced competition. With the physicality also comes baseball tools.”
He is similar, both in that respect and his physical size, to the Cardinals’ first round pick a year ago, Jordan Walker.
“Both have immense physicality, both performed well against the competition that summer,” Flores said. “In Baez’s case, his good looks happened a little earlier in the summer. In both cases we relied heavily on their summer looks and in both cases they excelled against advanced competition and their size and power potential was impressive.”
Donato saw Baez accept the challenge when he was facing tougher competition, which did not surprise him.
“When he faced good pitching he hammered it,” Donato said. “When he saw guys throwing upper 80s, low 90s, he was phenomenal.”
Baez’s personal story is impressive as well.
Born in Boston, his family moved to the Dominican Republic when he was an infant. They moved back to Boston when he was in the sixth grade – and he did not know a word of English.
“I had to take ESL classes through middle school,” Baez said. “By the end of eighth grade I was fluent. I’m still learning new words. It’s been a lot of hard work.”
As he has demonstrated on the field, however, working hard comes naturally for Baez.
He was 13, moving from the smaller Little League fields to a full-sized diamond, when he said he began to take baseball seriously. When he was 15, he added 40 pounds in a year.
“I want to do my best in everything I do,” Baez said, “I always want to win. That’s my goal anytime I am competing.”
That next will come for the Cardinals.
“This is awesome, this is a moment I will never forget,” Baez said. “It’s an amazing feeling. I’m so excited, I couldn’t be more excited. All I want to do is play baseball.”
Following the selection of Baez, the Cardinals used six of their remaining nine picks Monday on pitchers, five collegiate selections and one from high school.
Here were those picks:
Competitive balance round – Ryan Holgate, OF, U. of Arizona
3rd round – Austin Love, RHP, U. of North Carolina
4th round – Zane Mills, RHP, Washington State
5th round – Gordon Graseffo, RHP, Villanova
6th round – Alfredo Ruiz, LHP, Long Beach State
7th round – Allec Willis, RHP, Regis Jesuit HS (Colo.)
8th round – Mike Antico, OF, U. of Texas
9th round – Trent Baker, RHP, Angelo State (Texas)
10th round – Osvaldo Tovalin, 3B, Azuza Pacific U.
The draft concludes on Tuesday with rounds 11 through 20.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo of Josh Baez courtesy of John Tlumacki, Boston Globe