Blake Loubier is throwing sliders in his backyard to his brother Mark, a freshman at Oviedo (Fla.) High. At times it’s a bit much for the 15-year-old backstop, but at least the younger sibling can claim quarantine bragging rights to playing catcher for a member of the Boston Red Sox organization.
“It’s a good learning curve for him,” said Blake with a slight chuckle.
This is a professional baseball pitcher we are talking about. That’s major street cred. But it’s a reality and title that simply wouldn’t have been possible if Loubier found himself heading into the 2020 MLB Draft instead of last year’s version.
Timing is everything more than ever these days, a fact that Blake Loubier needs no reminder of.
“It’s crazy,” he said by phone from his Florida home. “We were just talking with my dad about it yesterday. If I would have been a year younger and this would have been my draft year …”
He need not finish the thought. Understood. Flat out, if Loubier — a 13th-round pick of the Red Sox who got a fourth-round-level signing bonus ($500,000) — was Oviedo High Class of 2020 instead of Class of 2019 Mark Loubier is catching just another member of the Wake Forest baseball team.
Loubier's story is a great one.
A kid who had zero interest from pro scouts until a serendipitous high school start to kick off his senior season. The all-A student shifting from his planned enrollment at Columbia to a more baseball-centric school in North Carolina. The son of a former minor-leaguer from South Portland, Maine who just so happened to grow up as the biggest Boston sports fan in Seminole County, Florida. The pitcher who finds himself getting to pitch in front of scouts at "one of my favorite places on Earth" Fenway Park. The draftee who lands with the kind of signing bonus scheduled for the 115th overall pick, not Pick No. 407.
But the best part of the entire tale may be how none of it would have happened if we were living this life a year ago.
This year? There would be virtually no senior season. There are only five rounds in the draft, and after that nobody is getting more than a $20,000 signing bonus. In other words, Loubier is either a really good Ivy League pitcher or a Demon Deacon. Either way, he is not a professional baseball player.
"This is probably a big no this year," said Red Sox scout Stephen Hargett regarding the chances Loubier ends up with the Red Sox if heading into his senior season under these current circumstances. "And you hate that for kids because I know there are 150 or 160 really good players, but there are a lot of other good players that might not be just as famous or might not have the resume or aren’t no commodities as of right now, but ultimately in five or 10 years they are going to be really good."
Loubier wasn't famous. He had little to no resume. He wasn't a hot commodity. He is the perfect example of all that has changed from last year to current day.
"It would have been completely different, for sure," he admitted.
THE DAY EVERYTHING CHANGED
There aren't many examples of professional athletes being able to define the actual date their path took the turn toward such a career becoming a real thing, but that is absolutely the case for Loubier.
February 27, 2019.
But then came that first inning, that first pitch. The scouts who were all there to see Loubier's counterpart, Windermere starter Bryce Hubbart, were smacked in the face with a radar gun reading nobody was expecting.
"I was the home pitcher so I came out first and all the scouts see this big, tall kid they are going to put their gun on me," Loubier recalled. "The first pitch I throw is 94. Everyone was like, ‘Who is this kid?’All the scouts looked over are our guns wrong? The next one is 94. They were like, ‘OK, this is an actual thing.’ My dad told me after the fact all those guys were on the phone calling their local cross-checkers. They were like, ‘What did we miss here?’ Throughout that game they were taking video from both sides, taking notes. It was crazy. That day changed my life for sure. I definitely wouldn’t have been drafted if I wasn’t going up against that kid.
"Everything completely changed."
One of those in attendance was Hargett.
"I walked out there and I’m like, ‘Who is this?’ It’s funny because his name is Stephen Blake Loubier. Some people were calling him Blake. Others were calling him Stephen. I was taking notes on a guy I didn’t even know his name," the Red Sox scout said. "The rains came in like the third inning, like Biblical rain, so I ran to my car and I was just thinking I had to get back to see this guy.
"The second time I saw him I went back and I saw him in the parking lot and said hello. I knew that night I needed to meet this kid’s family because I was late for the dance. His grandfather and his uncle were there. One had a Patriots hat on and one had a Red Sox shirt on."
The wheels were in motion, the kind of wheels all parties involved never thought would be an option for Loubier.
HERE COMES THE DRAFT
The college choices changed, but fortunately for the big righty the fastball velocity remained the same. He was looking like one of the top high school pitchers in the draft, but the feeling was still foreign for Loubier. "I kept going through the year and a lot of scouts kept coming for the first time. It was just all super new to me," he noted.
Hargett knew this was going to be a target for the Red Sox, a notion confirmed after bringing in other members of the Sox' scouting department -- such as Tom Kotchman, Fred Petersen, Paul Toboni and Mike Rikard -- to see what he was seeing.
"I saw him five times in the spring, on purpose. I specifically wanted to make sure who else was in there. He was the guy I definitely wanted. … I knew he wanted to play," the Sox scout said. "I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap. This is a really smart kid. But if anyone was going to have a choice I felt like we would be his No.1 choice.I just felt like if we could get this guy to the dance, we would have a chance."
He was right.
Teams were showing interest in Loubier, offering him the idea that he might be selected somewhere between Rounds 4 and 7. But the Red Sox were always the team seemed destined to make that college vs. pro choice the most difficult. They were the team, after all, that had given the pitcher his best taste of what might be ahead.
The draft day came and it went. The Red Sox had gotten their man ... almost. There was that last bit of convincing that needed to be done in order to keep him from choosing college. No matter what the round, Loubier had the number he needed in order to get him signed. It was the kind of money that would only be a pipe dream for players not getting their name called in the only five rounds this year -- half a million dollars.
"It never moved," said Loubier, who enlisted his current agent Tom O'Connell to close out the deal during that first week of July last year. "The day they got drafted they knew what it was and it was that when I signed.
"I 100 percent would have gone to college (under the current system). It’s really crazy to think. Thinking about going there now, I couldn’t even imagine going to college now. It just seems so different from what my life has become, pro ball seems like the only decision I could have made."