March 16, 2023: Lars Nootbaar, whose mother is from Saitama, Japan, has fulfilled a lifelong dream to play for the national team in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. And the country has embraced the Cardinals outfielder the past two weeks – cheering him on as he’s produced clutch hits and highlight-reel catches. Nootbaar jerseys have been spotted all around the Tokyo Dome. Japanese teammates have taken in the Japanese-American born in El Segundo, Calif.
And now, Nootbaar has perhaps the greatest honor Japan can place on someone it adores: a Tokyo ramen shop is offering a new dish called “Nootbaar Noodles."
“I haven't heard about the Nootbaar Noodles,” Nootbaar said before Japan’s quarterfinal game against Italy. “That's pretty cool. … “I’m so super thankful, obviously, for them embracing me.”
The country has also fallen in love with Nootbaar’s pepper-grinder celebration, a move nearly every Japan player now does after big plays. Pepper-grinder sales in the nation have actually increased by 15% over the past few days. Fans bring them to the ballpark or shake them at sports bars while tuned into the WBC.
“I heard about the pepper grinder; the sales have gone up since the team has been doing that,” Nootbaar said. “We actually had some of the young guys go buy a pepper grinder, so we'll probably have one in the dugout today. Spoiler. But yeah, it's been really cool to see the fans and the team kind of enjoy that. That's kind of the idea behind it.”
Having these extraneous, fun little moments within a team or with an entire country is what the Classic is all about. It’s helped someone like Nootbaar develop a connection with his new team and helped a nation fall in love with Samurai Japan.
“Obviously, I didn't know it was going to be this big,” Nootbaar admitted. “But just getting something that the team could get behind after hits and have a little camaraderie in the dugout, especially for me, because I don't speak the language that they speak -- so to kind of bridge that gap again for us, for me and the fans and the team.” (M Monegan - MLB.com - March 16, 2023)
|Birth City:||El Segundo, CA|
|Draft:||Cardinals #8 - 2018 - Out of USC|
June 2018: Nootbaar was the Cardinals 8th round pick, out of Southern Cal. He signed for $150,000, via scout Michael Garciaparra.
Lars is the younger brother of former Trojans pitcher and Orioles draft pick Nigel Nootbaar, who pitched for two years in the minors.
Their sister, Nicole, played volleyball at UC-Davis.
And their dad, Charlie, walked on to the baseball team at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Today, he runs his own cutting-edge performance-training business. The mom, Kumi, born and raised in Japan, might be the best of the lot. During the 2020 shutdown, she served as a capable catch partner for her youngest boy.
Lars passed for 77 touchdowns, and hit better than .400 in three of four seasons in high school. He was a league MVP in both baseball and football, and as a senior quarterback led the school to an undefeated season.
According to El Segundo assistant coach Mike Wagner, who has worked with Nootbaar since his youth, he could throw a 60-yar strike and run like the wind, but his #1 strength was "his intangibles."
Lars has the big, flashy smile, all kinds of energy. Other players surround him. It's like he is being a leader with trying to be a leader. He has a personality that people just want to be around.
In 2022, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Lars as the 6th-best Cardinals prospect.
June 22, 2021: Lars has gained a bit of a cult following on social media, mostly due to his catchy name. In his first Major League game he brought home the team's first run with a fifth-inning sacrifice fly.
Aug 16, 2021: Watching on television, it would have been easy to surmise that some of the sounds coming this weekend from Kauffman Stadium resembled boos. The Cardinals took five out of the six games against the Royals this season, with the I-70 Series firmly belonging to the club toward the east. Instead, listening ears required nuance. They were not boos, but “Noooooooooot.”
That’s been part of the quick ascension of Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar both up the organizational depth chart and into the hearts of those around St. Louis. Any time Nootbaar is announced to bat, or when he caps off said at-bat with a hit or makes a play in right field, he’s showered with sounds from the stands. It caught Nootbaar off-guard, too. He’s the youngest of three kids, so all the nicknames were taken up by the time he got to the age when monikers are typically doled out. His brother, Nigel (a former Orioles farmhand), went by “Nige,” and his sister, Nicole, earned the sought-after "Nootie," among other variations.
Lars was in nickname limbo. Then Busch Stadium learned of his legend, and the fans embraced it. “I've never gotten a chant like that before,” Nootbaar said in Kansas City. “I really enjoy it. You know, obviously, any sort of acknowledgment that you get is cool, but hearing the crowd like that is pretty awesome.”
Nootbaar made two starts in Kansas City in right field in lieu of an injured Dylan Carlson. Those represented just the eighth and ninth starts of his career, though he’s been able to be an impactful left-handed option off the bench otherwise.
It’s been earned; he batted .308 with a .900 OPS at Triple-A Memphis this year. The flash of power at the Majors, though, has been a sight to be seen.
Nootbaar was able to get back his first career home run ball, a pinch-hit bomb in Pittsburgh, by working an autographed swap with the fan who caught it. After the game, he said he wasn’t sure what he’d do with it -- he just might have to try to keep it out of the mouths of his two yellow labrador retrievers at home. His second home run ball? Well, that one already was fed to the fishes (or at least the fountains at Kauffman Stadium) 449 feet into right-center. Nootbaar waited 29 at-bats for his first big league bomb. Then he found two in consecutive games in which he racked up only one at-bat in each contest.
“It's a great experience,” Nootbaar said. “Something I’ve always dreamed of, being in the big leagues. But now being able to help a team like this and get some experience out of it has been great.”
“Lars has done great. I think he’s very capable of being a good big league player,” said manager Mike Shildt. “I don’t think there’s any question about that."
Nootbaar said the likes of Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Paul Goldschmidt and the Cardinals’ crop of wily veterans has made his time in the big leagues an easy transition. The elder statesmen has made the Cards’ described group of “young bucks”—Nootbaar, Carlson and Andrew Knizner—comfortable to voice their personalities in the dugout, keeping loose a team that has started to find its footing in August.
“That's super important,” Shildt said. “We like to play, guys like to play. It’s a long season, guys are grinding in a little bit, getting after it, but it's important that you have the group enjoy playing with each other, enjoy playing baseball, enjoy the energy of it.”
One mentor has stuck out in particular for Nootbaar. Nolan Arenado, a fellow “SoCal boy,” has shared many a public laugh with Nootbaar in the dugout. After Arenado’s homer, Nootbaar was at the top of the dugout steps to welcome him. During the series opener, Nootbaar and Arenado were caught on the Bally Sports Midwest broadcast giving each other a friendly ribbing.
Apparently, per Arenado's description, the discussion was centered around if balls travel better through humidity or clear air. Whichever way the heated debate played out, it sent a reverberation of laughs around the clubhouse.
And it sent a combined five homers between the pair out of the yard in the past week's six-game win streak. With them, plenty of “Noooooots” in tow—even on the road. (Z Silver - MLB.com - Aug 16, 2021)
Nootbaar’s intelligence and work ethic stand out in the organization. He’s shown an ability to catch up quickly to each new assignment and has progressed rapidly in limited time as a professional.
2023: Nootbaar committed to play for Team Japan in the WBC. Nootbaar has a Japanese mother but grew up in California and does not speak Japanese. He is the first to play for Japan in the WBC who qualifies because of his ancestry.
- The personality is big and fun, as evidenced by his post-game celebration antics and huge smile even in awkward situations, but so is the collection of skills Lars Nootbaar brings to the table. Particularly fun is his combination of power and contact ability. Here are the other players who, like Nootbaar, combined an above-average strikeout rate with a Barrel rate over 12 percent in more than 300 plate appearances last year. The 25-year-old is also a lefty who was in the 74th percentile in sprint speed last year, so he’s primed to take advantage of all the rules changes.
Nootbaar spent the offseason before the 2022 campaign at Driveline Baseball trying to improve his bat speed, and his maximum exit velocity jumped three-and-a-half ticks as a result. This past offseason, he spent a little more time trying to hone his ability to pull the ball in the air, which should turn more of that raw power into home runs. He could easily hit .280 with 25 homers and 10+ steals this coming season, and yet he is going near pick 200 in most drafts. (Sarris-Feb 22,2023-TheAthletic)
By now, you’ve probably seen video of the home run that Shohei Ohtani hit while basically on one knee in Japan’s first exhibition contest for the WBC.
He then pointed at teammate Lars Nootbaar, who scored on the blast, and gave him an emphatic two-handed high five after he touched the plate.
Even if you hadn’t noticed, you can bet baseball fans in Japan did.
Shohei Ohtani’s home run pepper-grinder celebration, explained That celebration is one Cardinals players and fans know well. It’s the pepper-grinder, a celebration Nootbaar started in St. Louis last year to celebrate when his teammates would grind out a few hits or a few runs. Get it? Kind of a reminder to keep after it, to do the little things right, and good things will come. Like runs — and wins.
It didn’t hurt that Nootbaar — who’s playing for Japan because his mother, Kumi, was born in Japan — is a genuinely likable person. Even when he’s struggled a bit (more on that in a moment), he’s been a big hit with his teammates and with the fans in St. Louis.
So, yeah, it quickly became “a thing,” to the point where an anonymous teammate bought Nootbaar an actual pepper grinder, and that became a dugout prop in big moments. T-shirts were made. Signs were printed. Y’know, “a thing.”
But when Ohtani — the icon of icons in Japan — did it to celebrate that home run? Well, it’s now just about the biggest thing in Japan. And when you think about how that came to be, it’s rather amazing. Almost unbelievable, really.
“We wanted a little hit celebration, something to do,” Nootbaar told reporters after the exhibition game. “We didn't really know what to come up with. And so he said, ‘Whatever I go out there and do first, that's what we’re gonna roll with.’ So, I went out [and got a hit] in the first inning, we got the pepper grinder out there. And you know, we kind of stuck with it.”
Lars Nootbaar’s unlikely journey to the WBC with Japan
Let’s take a quick trip back in time. Nootbaar came into the 2022 season with a chance to earn at-bats in the Cardinals outfield. He’d shown flashes, good and bad, during his 58 games with St. Louis as a rookie in 2021, but his 2022 season didn’t exactly get off to a good start.
Nootbaar was sent to the minors in late April with a.125 batting average. He was called back up about a month later, after posting a .400 on-base percentage with Triple-A Memphis, but somehow did worse at the plate. After an 0-for-3 day on June 1 — with a strikeout and a double-play — his average sat at .100 (3-for-30), with a .182 on-base percentage and .282 OPS.
“A lot wasn’t going right for me at the beginning,” Nootbaar told me with a laugh last September. “I just think I was pressing too much. I was trying to do too many things and trying to control things I couldn’t control.”
The idea that this guy would, less than a year later, be playing with Shohei Ohtani for Japan in the WBC, teaching the global superstar a celebration that he would use when he hit his first home run playing for Japan in an international competition since 2016? Even Vegas doesn’t have odds for things like, “Will Lars Nootbaar, owner of a.100 batting average on June 1, become a global trendsetter?”
Folks, that’s baseball.
Nootbaar was still batting just.200 with a .617 OPS by the All-Star break, but was earning playing time with his defensive versatility, and because of injuries.
In his first 39 games after the break, though, Nootbaar grabbed ahold of the opportunity in front of him. He posted a .414 on-base percentage and .983 OPS in that stretch, with eight homers, 23 RBIs, 30 runs scored, three triples and six doubles.
“Obviously, being able to get a little more playing consistency, that’s been nice,” Nootbaar said in September. “It’s just staying with my approach, staying with what I know I can do, working on the things I know I can work on, and not worrying about all the other stuff.”
He worked his way up the lineup and spent much of the second half batting leadoff for the Cardinals, in front of Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado — both on Team USA in the WBC — and, oh yeah, Albert Pujols and his chase for 700 career home runs. And, yeah, that’s when the pepper grinder really became a thing.
It was quite the experience, and one he might have missed if he’d not learned to control the controllables, instead of worrying about everything else.
“You get caught in the rat race of the season, and you try to take it chunk by chunk, but for me I just needed to take a step back and go pitch-by-pitch. That’s all I can do. That’s all I can focus on, this next pitch,” Nootbaar said in September. “A lot of times during a season, you don’t think logically. It takes a little bit of time to step back, take a breath and know everything’s alright. Obviously that wasn’t where I wanted to start.”
But it was that start that led him to this point, batting leadoff for Japan, hitting in front of Ohtani and watching him do the pepper-grinder celebration in front of a national audience. (Ryan Fagan - March 8, 2023)
Nootbaar has impressive contact skills. And he can destroy a baseball with his strong lefthanded swing. He even looks comfortable against lefthanded pitching and righthanders. He has a 60 hit tool and 55 grade power.
Nootbaar has the tools to be an above-average hitter with his advanced, patient approach at the plate. He rarely swings at bad pitches and has had nearly as many walks throughout every level of his career. Nootbaar possesses good bat speed and his strong, 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame should allow him to access more power in the future. His power is currently fringy, however. (Chris Hilburn-Trenkle - Baseball America Prospect Handbook - Spring2022)
His bat's nickname is: Noot Boom!
Lars reworked his swing in the 2020 Covid-canceled season.
“He’s been able to do it at the big league level,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “Jim Edmonds comes to mind. Jimmy, in his minor league career, was a guy who learned to hit, use the whole field. And once you learn your nice stroke, then all of sudden you start to (develop power).
"Matt Carpenter—nice strike, good strike-zone discipline, trusting what he could do—and (he) started to drive the ball. I think the same thing with Lars.”
When spring 2020 was shuttered, Nootbaar decided to strip his swing down to “scratch.” In his drills, he tested out new bats, worked on body positioning and also focused on "swinging harder" and "keeping that mentality."
It was a leap for a hitter allergic to strikeouts to trust his pitch recognition and coordination to make that same consistent contact—just louder. (Derrick Goold - Baseball America - Sept. 2021)
Lars walks almost as often as he strikes out. He has a polished, patient approach at the plate.
However, Nootbaar hits the ball on the ground too often.
June 22, 2021: After working toward his MLB debut for so long, the time between when Lars Nootbaar got the promotion and when he took the field with the Cardinals for the first time was a whirlwind. The news of his big league arrival sent his family back in California scurrying to mobilize a cheering section for the series opener at Comerica Park.
Were there jitters? Of course. Nootbaar admitted to tossing and turning “a little bit” the night before, but teammates and friends were quick to help him put the day in perspective.
“They told me it’s the same game I’ve been playing, so I tried to relax out there and do what I could do,” he said. “It’s still a round bat and a round ball, but definitely the stakes are a little higher and the competition’s obviously top level. But I just tried to do what I could and play the same way I always have.”
As it turned out, Nootbaar’s debut went just fine. And despite the quick turnaround, his brother and sister were in the stands to see the 23-year-old earn his first Major League RBI, a sacrifice fly that came in the fifth inning and accounted for half of St. Louis’ offense in the 8-2 loss. They also witnessed a handful of defensive plays as Detroit’s batted balls continually found their way to left field. Some were routine, like Jake Rogers’ sky-high flyout in the second inning that Nootbaar was able to camp out comfortably beneath; others required a bit more pizzazz, like Rogers’ fourth-inning double that hooked into the left-field corner and gave Nootbaar a chance to showcase the arm scouts have heralded since the Cards selected him in the eighth round of the 2018 MLB Draft.
“Obviously, I wish it would have come in a win, but just being able to get out there was definitely a good experience,” Nootbaar said. “Something I’ll remember forever.”
While not much could top making his debut, Nootbaar managed to one-up himself in the 6-2 finale loss by collecting his first career hit, and boy, was it a good one. He smacked a ball deep to center field in the third inning, then hit the gas coming out of the box to stretch the memory-maker into a triple. He popped up from his slide clapping enthusiastically, as his cheering section behind home plate went wild. In the sixth inning,
Nootbaar added his first career outfield assist as well, throwing out Isaac Paredes at home plate after fielding a single to right field. (D Klemish - MLB.com - June 23, 2021)
June 25, 2021: Lars Nootbaar collected a pair of hits on the first two pitches he saw for his first career multi-hit game.
Oct 29, 2021: It’s a rare time when hitting for the cycle is a little disappointing.
Nootbaar came to the plate with a runner in scoring position in the top of the 11th inning, his Glendale Desert Dogs in a 5-5 tie with the Scottsdale Scorpions. Arizona Fall League games only go 11 innings and the league puts a runner at second base to start each extra frame, so Nootbaar knew this was a chance to win the game. What he didn’t know was that he had doubled, tripled and homered prior to his one-out at-bat.
He singled softly to left, moving runner Yoelqui Cespedes to third, where he was stranded. (J Mayo - MLB.com - Oct 29, 2021)
- Lars is an average defender with a decent arm in left field or right field.
But he covers a lot of ground with long strides and solid route-running.
- Lars has below average 40 grade speed.
- May 28-June 14, 2021: In the minors, Nootbaar was on the 7-day injured list.