WashU alum Ryan Loutos debuts for the St. Louis Cardinals

In 2021, WashU’s pitching ace turned down a software engineering job to play minor league baseball. Three years later, he’s beginning to reap the rewards of the decision to chase his dream.

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Ryan Loutos (fourth from left) stands with some of his former WashU teammates and coaches after Monday night’s game. (Courtesy of Henry Singer)

It had been 38 years since a Washington University alumnus appeared in one of the United States’ big four professional sports leagues. It had been 49 years since a former Bear took the field on a Major League Baseball diamond. On June 1, 2024, Ryan Loutos ended that drought when he debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Pitching a scoreless eighth inning in a 6-1 loss against the Philadelphia Phillies, Loutos became the first WashU player to play in an MLB game since Dal Maxvill, who retired in 1975 after winning four World Series titles in a 14-year career, 11 of which were with the Cardinals. Loutos is the 23rd player to ever play in the MLB after leaving WashU and follows the legacy of Maxvill, three-time All-Star Norm Siebern, and 1924 World Series champion Muddy Ruel as WashU graduates to make the major leagues.

While Loutos will continue to be used out of the bullpen by the Cardinals, he was a star starting pitcher for WashU baseball from 2018 through 2021. Over three full seasons (and two games in the COVID-shortened 2020 season), he compiled a 1.84 ERA — third best in program history — and made three All-UAA teams. During his senior year, Loutos was a D3baseball.com and ABCA/Rawlings First Team All-American, dominating to the tune of a 10-1 record, 1.33 ERA, and a Bears record 116 strikeouts in 94.2 innings. 

“He was really like the heart of the team in many ways, and especially his senior year, he really put the team on his back,” said Thomas Gardner, who caught for Loutos and graduated the year before him. 

In 2021, Loutos’ senior year, he led the Bears to the College World Series, pitching the final outs to win the regional championship and punch their World Series ticket. The Bears would fall just short of a Division III national title but finished as a top-four team in the double-elimination tournament. 

Ryan Loutos was an all-American pitcher at WashU. (Clara Richards | Student Life)

During his time at WashU, Loutos also excelled off the field, where he was an honor roll-level Computer Science student. According to his former college teammate and roommate Henry Singer, Loutos was “extremely smart, not just for a professional baseball player, but relative to other people at WashU.” Singer said that although  “the only thing I’ve seen him do poorly” was a “truly terrible” karaoke performance, Loutos maintained a down-to-earth personality.

“I think it’s pretty rare for someone to excel their entire life at something and to not let the success inflate their ego…So, for Ryan to be extremely humble, not just humble at the level of someone who is a major league baseball player, but humble in the context of just everyday life is extremely impressive,” Singer said. “He was the guy when we lived together who did more chores than the rest of us…that’s the kind of guy Ryan is.”

For Loutos, the journey to the big leagues was far from a given. Many players excel in Division III, but very few have the talent to make it to the professional level. According to Gardner, however, Loutos was different.

“Oftentimes [in Division III], you see a pretty narrow band of talent where like everyone does things really well, but there’s something that’s missing…and so there was like a component where it was tougher to see that [weakness] in Ryan’s game where it was like, you know, what’s the catch?”

Throughout college, Loutos was renowned for his ability to throw the ball hard, which Singer learned when he first met his freshman-year roommate. 

“The first day we got to WashU, we played catch, and it was like the most terrifying game of catch. I’ve never played catch with someone that threw that hard,” Singer said.

Loutos only got stronger and threw harder throughout his four years with the Bears. In his first year with WashU, Loutos’ fastball averaged from 88-91 MPH. In his senior year, he hit 93 MPH. After signing his contract with the Cardinals, his premier pitch reached 98 MPH, faster than the average MLB fastball. 

“He’s an extremely disciplined guy,” said former pitcher Matt Ashbaugh, who graduated the year before Loutos. “He took this huge jump in velocity after his first year in the pros and that really shows his dedication to his craft.” 

The 6’5’’ righthander went undrafted and initially accepted an offer to become a software engineer in Chicago after graduating from WashU. Though his name wasn’t called in the 20-round MLB draft, the Cardinals offered him a contract shortly afterward, and Loutos chose minor league baseball over an office job. 

While at WashU, Loutos and then-teammate Mitchell Black created a website to track analytic metrics for every single pitch thrown by a WashU pitcher. The pair originally designed the website for a web development class, but eventually applied it to revolutionize the way that WashU pitchers innovate their pitching techniques. 

“[The website] told you what you have to work on and also showed you your progression,” Ashbaugh said. “It made things more organized, more synced, and ultimately, it’s why we had the lowest ERA in the country in 2019.”  

While on the team, Loutos and Mitchell Black developed a website to track every pitch thrown in WashU’s games and practices. (Clara Richards | Student Life)

The Computer Science graduate was targeted by the Cardinals front office for both his pitching talent and coding background. Before his first season playing with the franchise, Loutos worked with the staff to develop a new app to innovate the Cardinals’ pitching development.

According to Geoff Pontes of Baseball America, the Cardinals initially valued Loutos “as much for his potential fit as a front office candidate as they did for his skill as a baseball player.” Now, the organization believes that their investment in the unheralded pitching prospect will also pay off in the big leagues.

Loutos spent three seasons playing for the Cardinals’ minor league affiliates, making it to the Memphis Redbirds in AAA — the highest level of minor league baseball and one call away from the big leagues — in just his second year of professional play. Loutos earned the MLB call-up in May after sporting the lowest ERA on the Cardinals’ AAA team at the time of his promotion. 

Loutos will be expected to make an immediate impact on the struggling Cardinals. At 23-26, the team sits out of the playoff picture and lacks pitching depth on the back end of their bullpen. 

Loutos might not be the only former WashU baseball star in line for a major league debut. Another former Bear, utility infielder Caleb Durbin, was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 14th round of the 2021 MLB Draft and has excelled in the minor leagues after being traded to the New York Yankees before the 2022 season. Durbin has the second-highest batting average and the most stolen bases with the AAA-level Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Though only Loutos has received the professional call up, Durbin’s performances in the minors indicate that he will also likely receive a promotion to the pros at some point down the road.

“What’s unique about both Caleb and Ryan…is they just worked a lot harder than the rest of us,” Singer said. “They were both obviously naturally talented, especially for the Division III level, but they invested much more in their craft than the rest of us did. And I think part of the reason that we succeeded at such a high level of the team was just by proximity to their work ethic.”

Ashbaugh, who runs the WashU Baseball Updates page on X, broke the news of Loutos’ call-up on social media Sunday night.

“I had an idea that he would be called up, maybe sometime this summer, since he was pitching so well,” Ashbaugh said. “When he told me, it was a really exciting moment. He deserves it.” 

Throughout his journey, Loutos had constant support from his former Bears teammates and coaches. Many WashU graduates have traveled to watch him play in spring training and the minor leagues over the past few years, and a number of them made the trip to St. Louis to cheer him on in Busch Stadium this week.

“I think everyone is so pumped for [him] and it couldn’t happen to a better guy or a more deserving guy in terms of just all the work that he’s put in,” Gardner said. “[We’re] just really proud of him.”

This article was initially posted on May 22 and was last updated on June 2 at 3:45 PM.

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