Nolan Ryan once said that one of the beautiful things about baseball is that, every once in awhile, you come across a situation where you have to reach down and prove something. That’s exactly what former Baltimore Orioles prospect and Luce Prospect Group Founder/CEO Jake Luce has done throughout his baseball and professional careers.
Luce (pronounced Loo-chee) took a unique path to and through professional baseball, including turning down offers to play other collegiate sports.
“Believe it or not, I received more attention to play college football than I did college baseball,” Luce said. “In Texas, football is King. I was Allen High School’s kicker my sophomore year, and the only reason I kicked was because I wasn’t gifted physically enough to play any other position. So I stuck with it, and taught myself. I could’ve kicked in college, but baseball has always been my first love.”
Luce evaluated his options before deciding to sign a full-ride scholarship to play for Blinn College in Brenham, Texas. Yes, the same Blinn College that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton went to before transferring to Auburn.
“He must’ve wanted to follow in my footsteps,” Luce joked. “But in college recruiting the numbers are staggering. On average, seniors graduating college start their careers with an average debt-load of over $30,000. I educated myself so I could learn the facts at a young age.” Luce said. “I transferred to Jefferson College (in St Louis) after Blinn because I medically redshirted, and ultimately decided JeffCo was where I wanted to be.”
Luce and his younger brother Jackson both played for former JeffCo head coach Sam Carel on full-ride baseball scholarships. Luce’s other brother, Justice, is a currently a wide receiver at Texas A&M-Commerce. Sam Carel is now the head baseball coach at Northwestern Oklahoma State University.
“He’s honestly the best coach I ever played for,” Luce said. “Coach Carel and the entire JeffCo staff are close friends of mine to this day.”
Luce was part of the Jefferson College team that won back-to-back conference titles in 2009 and 2010. Luce hit a combined .349 in his two years at JeffCo. After receiving a scholarship offer from Elon University, a private, Division I program in North Carolina, he helped the Phoenix celebrate a Southern Conference Championship by leading the team in doubles as the starting left-fielder.
After all was said and done, Luce graduated from Elon in 2012 and signed as free agent with the Amarillo Sox, an independent team in the American Association.
“The route I took to eventually sign with Baltimore is a story in and of itself,” Luce said. “Looking back on it, I think I had to be a bit crazy in order to go through what I did. But that’s how life is; sometimes you have to put your ‘big-boy’ pants on and go after what makes you happy. So I did.”
Luce spent the next couple of seasons playing for various teams in independent ball. He was a key part of the 2014 Wichita Wingnuts, who went 79-28 and captured the American Association Championship after losing in the championship series the previous two seasons.
During his time with the team, Luce hit .341 and slugged .480. His strong numbers attracted the attention of several big league teams, including the Tigers, Reds, Dodgers, and Orioles. In a more in-depth article by 27Outsbaseball.com writer Chris Phillips (@HardballFarm), several scouts commented about Luce and his tenacity for the game.
Orv Franchuk, a former scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers said Luce has a lot of heart and is “a kid that just wins.” Chris Carminucci of the Arizona Diamondbacks said Luce “attacks the game every day and plays like he’s on a mission.” But after the dust settled, it was ultimately Ryan Powell, a scout with the Baltimore Orioles, that gave Luce his shot.
On January 13, 2015, Luce signed with the Orioles and set out to Sarasota, FL for Spring Training, Luce received only a limited amount of live at-bats, and before the Orioles broke camp, Luce was released. He hit .571.
Luce then returned to independent ball. He played for the Florence Freedom (Frontier League), before he was traded to the Atlantic League to the Bridgeport (CT) Bluefish, then to the Lancaster (PA) Barnstormers, and finally back to the American Association, where he signed with the Sioux Falls Canaries-this all happened in same calendar year.
In late July, Luce’s career took a turn for the worse when he was hit in the side of the head with a 94 mph fastball. “I was knocked out,” Luce said. “The ironic thing is that I was hit while playing in a game against the Amarillo Sox. That’s where I started my professional career and, as of now, where I’ve ended it.” Despite the season-ending injury, Luce currently has offers and opportunities to continue his playing career in 2016. “I haven’t decided what I’m going to do,” Luce said. “I’m asked that question all the time, but right now my purpose is to help as many high school athletes and their parents with the college recruiting process. I’m just taking it one day at a time, as I’m looking forward to see what the future holds.”
After returning home to Dallas, TX in July of 2015, Luce started focusing on the company he started in early 2014: The Luce Prospect Group. Luce has not only garnered major respect in the baseball world as a player, but now looks to prove himself as a business owner and become the Thought Leader on college recruiting. We will discuss all this and more in Part II of this story. You can also visit them on their mobile site at www.luceprospectgroup.com/?