By Rob Rains
It’s been 48 years since a player from Washington University appeared in a major-league game, the final game of Dal Maxvill’s career, in 1975.
Caleb Durbin and Ryan Loutos think 2024 would be a perfect year for that drought to end.
“Hopefully,” Loutos said. “I think we’ve both got a decent shot. We will see what happens.”
Durbin, a middle infielder, was drafted by the Braves in the 14th round in 2021 while Loutos, a righthanded pitcher, signed the same year with the Cardinals as a non-drafted free agent after both finished outstanding careers at Wash U.
Durbin was traded to the Yankees three days after Christmas last year and split the 2023 season between high Class A and Double A, where he hit .291 with 21 stolen bases in 47 games.
Loutos spent much of 2023 at Triple A Memphis, where he recorded 83 strikeouts in 71 innings coming out of the Redbirds bullpen.
The 23-year-old Durbin has continued his season in the Arizona Fall League, where through Tuesday’s game, he ranked ninth in the prospect-laden league with a .339 average. He also has 12 stolen bases, two off the league lead, and has struck out only six times in 62 at-bats.
“The goal was to come out here and get more at-bats and get into a rhythm,” said Durbin, who is playing for Mesa. “Think about it – I was playing Division 3 college baseball two years ago and now I’m feeling pretty comfortable at this level. That in itself gives me a lot of confidence.”
Durbin’s success doesn’t surprise Loutos, who realized pretty quickly once they both were on the Wash U. campus that there was something different about Durbin, who was a year behind him in school.
“The thing about Caleb is that he’s always been a difference maker,” Loutos said. “He’s kind of like Masyn (Winn) where we won games because of him. There’s not a lot of guys you can say that about. He does everything on the field so well.”
The first time Loutos met Durbin, even though they both are from the Chicago area, was when Durbin and his dad made a recruiting visit to the school.
Durbin had put out some feelers to high-academic Division 1 schools as he was graduating from high school but did not receive much feedback.
“They came to practice and I talked to them and tried to give him the feel of why he should come to Wash U,” Loutos said. “Little did I know how good of a player he was when I was talking to him. He pretty much came in as a freshman and you could tell, ‘OK, I think this guy is pretty good.’ There was something different about him than all of the other freshmen. Within the first week of games or so you could tell he was the real deal.”
Loutos played with Durbin for three years, during which he saw him post a combined .386 average with 89 RBIs in 93 games, scoring 117 runs.
Like most of the student-athletes who go to Wash U, Durbin was there because of the academic level that the school offered.
His major in economics and finance was really a Plan B, however. His goal coming out of college was to play baseball.
“I wanted to have that degree to fall back on,” he said. “I know Ryan did some internships in the summer, but I was always playing baseball. This was kind of my goal. I’m glad it’s worked to this point.”
Like Loutos, who also had a stellar college career, Durbin hoped that his performance would give him a chance at the pro level, but he knew there was no guarantee.
“He was kind of in the same boat as me doing everything he could but he didn’t know (if he would be drafted},” Loutos said. “It’s a crapshoot. He had confidence in his ability and all he needed was an opportunity. He knew he was good enough but just didn’t know if he would get that opportunity or would be overlooked.”
The Braves gave him that chance, making Durbin only the third player ever selected in the baseball draft out of Wash U and the first since Russ Chambliss in 1997.
While the Braves gave him a start, Durbin also has made the most of his move to the Yankees organization.
“The Yankees have done a lot of really good things to help me,” Durbin said.
Even though their pro careers have taken them away from each other, Loutos has continued to follow Durbin and chart his progress.
“He’s such a good defender, he steals bags, he’s got a really good baseball IQ and makes smart plays,” Loutos said. “He just takes smart at-bats. When you play with him you just say, ‘Who is this guy?’ He’s not flashy, he’s not doing anything crazy. He just does everything well.
“He finds a way to impact the game. He’s just a winner.”
What Durbin and Loutos have both proven with their minor-league success is that Division 3 athletes should not be overlooked when it comes to teams evaluating college players.
“I think when we were both there in school we followed D3 guys who were in pro ball and we saw the ones who got to the big leagues,” Loutos said. “It was like, ‘Allright, if they can do it … Just because I’m here at this school doesn’t mean it’s going to be the end of the road.’
“Even at the Triple A level you look around and you think you would just see SEC guys and guys from power 5 schools, but it’s quite the opposite. You see guys from different countries, and a lot of D2 and D3 guys all over the place.”
At some point in his pro journey, Durbin also knows that how he plays is going to be far more important to his future success than where he went to school.
“Here the work you put in shows and once you get to a certain level, where you went to school, what your draft spot was, how big a signing bonus you got, it doesn’t matter anymore,” Durbin said.
“At a certain level the talent gap starts to shrink. You have your Juan Soto’s and Ronald Acuna Jr.’s that are freaks, but as a whole I think the talent gap between players decreases as you go up. The maturity level and the mental game really starts to show the higher up you go.”
With Loutos at Triple A and Durbin coming off a good Double A season and successful stint in the Fall League, both players could be in position to make their major-league debuts next year.
“That would be unbelievable,” Loutos said. “It’s one of those things where neither of us even knew if we were going to play professional baseball, let alone get to the big leagues. It would mean the world to us and to Wash U athletics.
“Wash U athletics isn’t even as well known throughout the school as it should be because it is such a great athletic program. It’s such a high academic school that so many students don’t really give it the time of day. I think it would show how good Wash U athletes are and would kind of put them on the map a little more.”
Added Durbin, “I think it makes for a good story. Here’s a couple of D3 kids from a high academic school; let’s see these two nerds and see how good they are.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo of Caleb Durbin courtesy of MLB via Getty Images; Loutos photo courtesy of Springfield Cardinals