Baseball sends Durbin and Loutos to Braves, Cardinals in historic draft day
Before Tuesday, two Washington University baseball players have signed professional baseball contracts in the past 50 years. Then came the third day of Major League Baseball’s draft, when rising senior Caleb Durbin was drafted for the Atlanta Braves in the 14th round and May graduate Ryan Loutos signed with the St. Louis Cardinals as an undrafted free agent.
Durbin and Loutos have played college baseball in Kelly Field, a diamond with two sets of bleachers that rarely—if ever—were full. They excelled in snowy workouts without the glamor of a specialized indoor playing facility. They joined only three other Division III players on their summer league team, where they both play in the Northwoods League in Wisconsin. Now, both baseball players will move on to play professionally after a historic Tuesday for the Wash. U. baseball program.
Both players have a few days at home before heading down to their respective teams’ spring training facilities in Florida. From there, if they both pass their physical and sign their contracts, they will talk to the player development staff and will probably be headed to either a rookie league or the low A team.
Durbin, who will forgo his fourth year of NCAA eligibility, had been notified by the Atlanta Braves that they would try to draft him in the 11th to 15th rounds, but he was still anxiously waiting for his name to be called on Tuesday. He was sitting with his host mother in Wisconsin when his name appeared on the screen, so he said his reaction was anti-climatic, with the infielder just trying to wrap his head around what just happened. “I still feel like a little kid playing baseball. To play in the Braves organization—it’s a dream come true,” Durbin said. “They’re taking a chance on me and I’m really stoked for the opportunity.”
Durbin, whom head coach Pat Bloom described as “a baseball rat, in the nicest possible way,” is known for his explosiveness and power on the field as well as his eye for the strike zone over the plate. “He’s one of the best shortstops I’ve ever coached without question—just a tremendous playmaker with great instincts,” said Bloom. “So much is attempted to be quantified in this day and age with baseball analytics, but there’s things that Caleb has that you just can’t measure, and I’m just happy that the Braves recognize that as well.”
Still, Durbin’s statistics are also impressive. In 365 times at bat for the Bears, he struck out just eight times, with 19 walks to two strikeouts this season. This season, he had more than three times as many home runs as he had strikeouts, leading the team in slugging percentage at .608. He also played a pivotal fielding role for the Bears at shortstop, executing several twisting double plays in the World Series to close out important innings.
Ultimately, the decision for him to forgo his last year of eligibility and school was an easy one, especially because the Braves will pay for his last year of education when he wants to finish it. “The way the program’s going, they’ll be fine without me—the type of recruits they’re going to get, it’s all up from here,” Durbin said.
Loutos was celebrating Durbin’s draft pick at lunch with Durbin and Wash. U. teammate Austin Sachen when he looked at his phone and saw an email with a letter of agreement from the Cardinals. So far removed from Wash. U., he received the news that would change his life surrounded by Bears. “We rely on each other for all these thoughts and worries—we share those emotions together,” Loutos said about going through the draft process with Durbin. “I can’t imagine us not going through it together.”
“The stuff that comes with it—the anxiety and the excitement—it’s so nice to go through that together,” Durbin concurred. “It just felt so much more comfortable going through it with one of my best friends on the team.”
Loutos, who had a 11-1 record in the 2021 season, signed with the St. Louis Cardinals as an undrafted free agent. “He’s one of the best pitchers I’ve ever coached,” said Bloom, who also coached 2007 second round pick Jordan Zimmerman, the two-time MLB all-star pitcher. “Ryan has his pitch repertoire and his combination of being able to beat you with power, beat you with command, and beat with secondary stuff. He ranks right up there for me.”
Bloom contemplated that Loutos’ velocity wasn’t high enough to go in the first twenty rounds of the draft for a right-handed college arm. Still, he thought that if Loutos is able to increase his velocity by a few miles per hour, his overall abilities and fundamental strength will help him succeed in the next phase of his career.
The even-keeled 6’5 right hander pitched 230 innings for the Bears, averaging 11.23 strikeouts per nine innings. For every complete season he played, his ERA kept ticking down, going from 2.83 his freshmen year to 1.33 as a senior. Now, Loutos will head down to Florida in a whirlwind departure from his plan for a corporate job in the fall. “Nothing makes sense in my head right now,” he said while making the drive home to pack his bags for the spring training facility. “I just can’t describe how excited I am to be part of this organization. It’s always been a passion of mine, and now it’s my job.”
The class of 2021 marks Bloom’s first full recruited class to have played a complete season, so to have two players continue to the next level of the game is a testament to the success of his program.
“I think that we take a little special pride in knowing that all the hard work that we put into building this program and getting it to perform at a high level paid off this year,” Bloom said. “This is a goodbye, but we still plan to very much keep in touch with these guys. And at any point, whether it’s good, bad or otherwise, we’re always here to support them, no matter what.”
Re-live the Bears’ historic 2021 World Series run: