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If you’ve watched an NCAA sporting event on television over the last 10 or so years, you’ve likely seen a commercial for the NCAA with the tagline “There are over 400,000 NCAA student-athletes, and most of us will go pro in something other than sports.”
The tagline is meant to express that the vast majority of student athletes, particularly below the Division I level, will likely get a degree, graduate and enter the workforce alongside their fellow graduates. Very few collegiate athletes take the next step into professional sports.
While many student athletes are presented with a cross in the road at the end of their amateur careers, the Cardinals’ Ryan Loutos took the road less traveled.
A nondrafted free agent following the 2021 draft out of Division III Washington University in St. Louis, Loutos signed with the Cardinals and saw immediate success as a professional. Loutos reached Triple-A by July 1 of his first full professional season and made 22 appearances for Triple-A Memphis in 2022. While Loutos has made an impact on the field for the Cardinals during his time with the organization, it’s the value he’s provided the analytics department off the field that makes his story unique.
A computer science major, the Cardinals coveted Loutos as much for his potential fit as a front office candidate as they did for his skill as a baseball player. The organization quickly put him to work, collaborating with the analytics department to build player reports and interfaces.
Headed to the Arizona Fall League after the completion of Memphis’ season, Loutos sat down and spoke with Baseball America about his journey from a Division III nondrafted free agent to a Triple-A reliever moonlighting in his free time as a front office staffer.
This conversation was lightly edited for clarity.
GP: What’s your background as far as a player—you made the choice to play at a prestigious academic school. What led you there?
RYAN: I was playing baseball and basketball through eighth grade. I didn’t make my travel basketball team, so I quit in eighth grade and I was done with it. Dad was upset about me quitting basketball before high school, but I ended up trying out for the golf team in the fall and then made it and played all four years of golf and baseball. So golf in the fall because it’s a fall sport in Illinois and baseball in the spring. So golf was a perfect offseason sport for me and baseball was always something where I was always driven. My dad instilled the right values in me, putting in the work necessary to be as good as I can year after year.
I think college baseball didn’t even really start to get on my radar until junior year. It wasn’t the sort of thing where my only goal was to play college baseball. My focus was just to be as good as I can be, and everything we’ll kind of play it by ear. Then as I said around junior year, I started to realize that I could potentially play college baseball and at that point, my options were limited because I wasn’t going to sacrifice academics. So the only high academic schools that I could go to were Division IIIs because the other top academic schools (with good baseball programs) were Stanford, Berkeley and the Ivys and none of those had any interest in me.
So my options were limited. But the D III schools were interested, so I thought “Okay, there’s a lot of high academic D IIIs and Wash U had a lot of kids from my high school Barrington, that ended up going to Wash U to play sports that were also good students.” So I found out about the school that way and it just worked out where it was a perfect fit. Baseball wise, I knew I could potentially make an impact right away there, just both academically and athletically because I knew I had a chance to compete for a starting spot right away.
GP: Once you get there, were you always decided upon a major or did you pick computer science later on? And did that have any relation to your baseball ability and interest at that point?
RYAN: They were kind of separate at that point. Baseball and academics were still very separate for me. I knew I really liked engineering in high school. So I went into Wash U thinking I was going to be a biomedical engineer or a chemical engineer or something along those lines. Potentially I was looking at doing pre-med as well. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I knew I liked math, science and I was good at chemistry and biology. I was kind of interested in that route, too, and Wash U has a really good pre-med program. So a lot of kids do that.
That’s what I went in thinking I was gonna do, but then I took a computer science course my freshman year after I heard about it and it seemed interesting to me. I took it, I loved it and ended up being really good at it, too. You know, I was the guy that all my friends could ask for help in that class. Happy I stumbled upon it as early as I did.
The next semester, I switched majors to like computer engineering, which is like hardware and software. I quickly realized I didn’t like the hardware side of things. I just liked the software side. So then I switched to computer science midway through my sophomore year.
It didn’t really overlap with baseball until my junior year when I really started to develop the skills that I could do some things and I kind of started to expose myself to the world of what I could actually do for different projects, different interests. Our team manager went off to work for the Braves front office. So he was a good guy that I could talk to about all that stuff. So yeah, it kind of started to all happen naturally. I would say like my sophomore, junior year, once I started to get into computer science a little bit more.
GP: At that point, did you start to approach things differently as a pitcher? Did the analytical work have an impact? You’re primarily a three-pitch guy now with good velocity on your fastball. What were you throwing then?
RYAN: Yeah, it’s funny people ask me that. For me, especially in college, I was starting and I had like five or six pitches at one point in college. I just threw a lot of average pitches. I had six pitches but they were all pretty average, and then I was able to command the baseball pretty well. My senior year I was like 88-92 mph. So, in terms of how I was then versus how I am now (I’m) a different pitcher. Especially because now I’m out of the pen.
But in terms of the overlap and kind of how I saw things, you know, honestly, it didn’t really have a huge impact until I started to do stuff for our college team and work on a website for our team to track and store all of our data. Then I was able to gain some insights from that. Still nothing crazy because I was overall pretty successful as a pitcher so there weren’t really a whole lot of insights that I needed, which made sense at that point.
There weren’t really a ton of edges that I could find. It was mostly just becoming a better pitcher over time and working with my pitching coach in that way and then all the heavy data stuff and whatnot that I did with the college team. So at that point the kind of things that I would look at and think about training wise and all that stuff was more like supplemental. I would say it was something that I was always interested in. I’d read, you know, blogs from Driveline, I would try to find my own insights but nothing really manifested into anything concrete. It was very much just supplemental, I would say, and more of an interest at that point.
GP: So you’re finishing up at Wash U, you don’t get drafted. What’s the story behind you signing?
RYAN: Yeah, so I didn’t really have a lot of interest in the spring. I was pitching really, really well. My velocity, it was okay, it was better than what it was in the past. It was that tipping point. I was in the mix of righthanded higher three-quarters arm slot guys that would maybe get a chance or maybe wouldn’t. Being a D III guy kind of hurts that even more so.
Julia Prusaczyk, a scouting analyst with the Cardinals, came out to see me. She had a relationship with my agent and he got her to come out and see me. The team came out to see me pitch a few more times after that. There were probably between five to 10 teams that came out throughout the spring and summer that saw me but no one really had any interest.
The Cardinals were the only one that seemed like they had a little bit of interest, not even a ton, just a little bit. At that point, I had a job lined up. I was really just enjoying my time and accepting whatever happened at that point, happened. Like if I got a chance I got a chance. If I didn’t, I didn’t, you know?
But in the end, I waited and watched the draft hoping that someone would take a chance. Got told in the 18th round by the Cardinals that they were not going to draft me, but were going to sign me right after the draft. It was a funny day, I didn’t get drafted but I got to celebrate like I did. In the end it is sort of the same and then you get into pro ball and I got treated the exact same as the 14th-rounder or as the seventh-rounder or as the fourth-rounder, so it really ended up being no difference. For me I was happy one team gave me a shot.
GP: So when did the velocity on your fastball jump? You’re out of the pen now, so I’m sure there’s some gains there, but were there mechanical adjustments, anything in particular that helped you take that jump? Second part, did you throw a sweeper in college that was getting the sort of horizontal break that you’re getting now?
RYAN: So I had a slider but it was not quite as sweepy as mine is now. The velocity jump kind of came after the season. I had a five-month offseason for the first time. I’d never had a legitimate offseason because in college baseball, you don’t really have an offseason like you do in pro ball. I was able to be really good with everything that comes with training—nutrition, sleep, lifting, mobility, throwing and I was able to hammer a really good long-term training program for the offseason. I trained at home in Illinois at Superior Athletic Advantage with my buddy from high school and then I went down to Premier Pitching in St. Louis and I was there for the second half of the offseason. I got to train (with) 10 to 15 other pro guys. They had everything I needed in terms of portable Trackman, biomechanics and everything I could have asked for in terms of environment to work on everything I needed to work on.
So I was fortunate. Just because you work hard, doesn’t guarantee it’s gonna lead to anything. So I was fortunate in that everything I did was for the purpose of trying to throw harder and just to better myself as a pitcher and it worked out where all of a sudden my velocity at the beginning of the season slowly started to climb, to the point where I was running it up in the upper 90s and it was a huge jump. Obviously it makes it a lot easier doing that than trying to be 90-92 and get outs.
GP: So fast forward to today you’re in Triple-A, in your first full professional season. You’re on the cusp of (the) big leagues with a team that develops guys well internally and leans on them pretty heavily in big spots early in their careers. You’re heading to the Arizona Fall League and what I find most interesting is you’re using your degree and technical abilities to assist the front office. How did that come about and what sort of stuff are you working on?
RYAN: So I’ve actually been doing stuff since the start of last offseason. One of the analytics project managers is a Wash U baseball alum from 10 years ago and he knows me and followed my career. I think it might have been part of why they signed me.
I don’t know if they’ll ever tell me until my baseball career is over but I don’t know how much of me potentially working in the front office went into signing me and letting me play for a few years …
If I didn’t sign I was potentially getting an internship with Driveline, potentially was going to keep working with Rapsodo. So now and then they reached out to see if I had any interest in helping them. I was like you know what, why not help the team that I want to help? The cool part is I got to be the end user of the things that I was working on. So it kind of just worked out where my boss was watching baseball and knew who I was when I signed. So when they asked me to start it and it just seemed like a perfect fit. Long story short, I’ve been doing it ever since and I still do it today. In fact I did a few hours of work this morning.
GP: I would imagine just having that amount of information at your disposal and being able to like navigate the tools, I would imagine that’s valuable once you do get up to the big leagues and there’s a lot more advanced scouting reports and such, you know, game planning that goes into it from a day to day basis now. That’s an advantage for you, isn’t it?
RYAN: I think so. Most of my work is more with a software development focus. So it’s not as much about finding an edge. However, just being in the nitty gritty details of all of this stuff, it forces you to also find an interest in it, which I’ve always had anyway. But it’s true you have the tools and the ability to explore things. It’s also cool that I have the ability to make an impact on things that will help me and my teammates as a player. Then I can kind of help relay the information from the end users to the front office.
Information wise they limit what I can see, but being able to help with all this kind of just forces me to also explore and see different things that maybe I wouldn’t see and just think about things in a different way that I wouldn’t think about otherwise.
Again, most of my work is more development focused. So I get to help with the designs and what we actually show the players, which I can help provide some thoughts on what they want to show and what’s important, what’s not. So that’s helpful. Right? So I kind of feel like this is why we show this specific thing to a player, right? And I can see the advantage of that and why.
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