TCN 2022 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #10 – Lars Nootbaar

photo: Lars Nootbaar (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Opening the top 10 in The Cardinal Nation’s Top 50 countdown for 2022 is a prospect who seized the fourth outfield spot with St. Louis in the second half of 2021. 2,000 words in our FREE report on Lars Nootbaar follows!



Lars Nootbaar

Position: Outfield
Age: 24 years old
Bats/Throws: L/R
Height/Weight – 6’3/210
Acquired: Selected in the eighth round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft, 243rd overall
Primary team in 2021: St. Louis Cardinals (MLB)
Finished 2021: Glendale Desert Dogs (Arizona Fall League)

Prior Top 50 rankings – unranked (2019, 2020, 2021)

Click on the above photo to be taken to Nootbaar’s player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Link to Nootbaar’s  career stats

Jake Tweedie’s scouting report

(current grade/future grade)

HIT POWER FIELD ARM RUN FV
35/45 40/50 50/50 55/55 35/25 45+
AVG OBP SLG OPS HR SB CS K% BB%
.239 .317 .422 .739 5 2 1 22.6% 10.5%
ISO wRC+ GB/FB GB% LD% FB% Pull% Cent% Oppo%
.183 101 1.16 45.6% 15.2% 39.2% 43.4% 31.3% 25.3%

Nootbaar had a successful 2021 season. After averaging .308 in Triple-A, he got the call-up to the Majors for the first time. He performed well for the Cardinals, averaging .239 with five home runs. Although he may not have been the first name most expected to become the fourth outfielder, he looked positive and did well in many of his at-bats.

A confident hitter, Nootbaar stands tall at the plate with a big kick before he makes contact with the ball. Although this worked more in the Minor Leagues, he continued this in the Majors, and made some decent plays. He can be caught out with this action, but his 22.6% strikeout rate with St. Louis is pretty good considering.

When Nootbaar makes solid contact, the ball pops off the bat with conviction. However, too many ground shots from where the bat didn’t make solid contact caused him some problems.

Defensively he was impressive. Robbing Peter Alonso of a big home run was the highlight of his season in the field (see video below) but there were other instances in which he showed he can be more than just reliable in the outfield. Nootbaar has a good reach and jump to make plays from balls over his head and knows where the wall is when running back to make catches.

Future Value: 45+
Role: Platoon player/average everyday player
Risk: Low

Video

Brian Walton’s environmental impact report

Background

Just as he did in the 2018 draft, Nootbaar immediately follows our no. 11 prospect Brendan Donovan in this top prospect countdown. Back on draft day, St. Louis tabbed Nootbaar from the University of Southern California in the eighth round, their next pick after Donovan.

The two also have in common 40-man roster spots, though Nootbaar already seems established in the Majors (while South Alabama’s Donovan has yet to debut).

Assigned to short-season Class-A State College after signing, the left-handed Nootbaar took some time to adjust, batting .227 with a .309 on-base mark. Yet, he was productive, with 26 RBI in 56 games, including a memorable seven-RBI performance that included a grand slam in late August as the Spikes were fighting for a playoff spot.

Lars Nootbaar (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

After making Class-A Peoria to open 2019, Nootbaar quickly earned the confidence of manager Erick Almonte, and was elevated to the leadoff spot ahead of hot hitters Nolan Gorman and Brady Whalen. With a .344 on-base percentage that included 16 walks against 13 strikeouts, Nootbaar was promoted to High-A Palm Beach in mid-May.

His results were more pedestrian at both High-A (.673 OPS) and Double-A (.685 OPS), though a positive was his career-best .373 on-base mark through his 33 games with Springfield to close 2019. (That of course indicates his power was lacking.)

Still, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Nootbaar was just the second player from his draft class to reach Double-A after moving through both Class-A levels during that 2019 season.

Lars Nootbaar (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Across the three levels in 2019, Nootbaar slashed .264/.349/.364/.713. He drove in 38 and scored 39 runs in 387 plate appearances over 101 games, He drew 45 walks against 55 strikeouts.

As noted, power was the biggest gap in Nootbaar’s game, a very important requirement from a corner outfielder. Prior to 2021, his career slugging and on-base percentages were equal at .334. Further, the trend was not positive, as his Double-A SLG was only .312.

Known for his strong arm, Nootbaar can play all three outfield positions, but is best suited for right field. He should be considered an emergency option in center. In 2019, he tied for second among Cardinals minor league outfielders and tied for seventh in all of Minor League Baseball with 16 assists.

Nootbaar was not selected for St. Louis’ alternate camp in 2020 and sat out the season, with little suggestion of what would be just ahead.

2021 recap – professional

After drawing notice in his first big-league camp as a non-roster invitee, Nootbaar made the Memphis roster to open the 2021 regular season. However, he didn’t get through the first month before being placed on the Redbirds’ seven-day injured list with an injury to his right hand. That kept him out of action from May 28 until June 13.

Any hand injury is dicey for a hitter and this one was especially terrible timing-wise for Nootbaar as he had been the organization’s hottest hitter during May with a system-leading .333 average, .435 on-base mark and an OPS of 1.021.

Lars Nootbaar (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

It worked out ok in the end, as less than 10 days after his activation, he was with St. Louis. The Cardinals turned to Nootbaar after several other outfielders had been tried during Harrison Bader’s stint on the injured list. They included Justin Williams, Lane Thomas, Scott Hurst and injured Austin Dean.

At the time of his June 22 elevation to St. Louis, Nootbaar was added to both the 40-man and 26-man active rosters. He was the first from the Cardinals’ 2018 draft class to reach the majors and he remained with St. Louis for good starting on July 30 when Thomas was traded to the Washington Nationals for veteran starting pitcher Jon Lester.

Though he did not have enough plate appearances to qualify among the Triple-A East League leaders, Nootbaar would have ranked fourth in both batting average and on-base percentage at the time of his initial promotion.

With Memphis, Nootbaar had begun to tap into his power potential, falling just short of the highly desirable .300/.400/.500 slash line- at .308/.404/.496. He struck out just 25 times against 17 walks taken.

Whether it was the hand injury or adjusting to the majors for the first time or inconsistent playing time or some combination of the three, Nootbaar did not hit well initially with St. Louis.

In fits and spurts of action in June and July, Nootbaar opened his MLB career with a difficult 4-for-26 (.154) stretch at the plate. He was returned to Memphis twice in July, first when Bader came off the injured list. But when Thomas was dealt away at the trade deadline, Nootbaar was back with the Cardinals to stay.

Lars Nootbaar (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Over the final two months of the season, Nootbaar had one exceptional month (.979 OPS in August) before struggling again down the stretch. He finished his initial season in an 8-for-39 (.205) funk during September/October for a .638 OPS. He did not play in St. Louis’ Wild Card Game loss to the Dodgers.

Overall, Nootbaar’s rookie slash line with St. Louis was .239/.317/.422/.739 for an OPS+ of 105 and wRC+ of 101, just slightly above league average.

As a Cardinal, Nootbaar hit left-handed pitching better than right, with an OPS of .866 vs. .707. However, this may be a small sample anomaly, as his minor league results indicate he has traditionally hit righties much better than lefties.

Nootbaar demonstrated good plate discipline with a strikeout rate at 20% or less and a walk rate of 14% or better at Double-A and Triple-A. Following the season, Baseball America gave him their nod as the hitter with the Best Strike-Zone Discipline in the Cardinals system.

Nootbaar’s St. Louis marks slid slightly in each direction to 22.6% K rate and 10.5% BB rate, but for a first-year player, this is nothing to be concerned about.

Defensively, he remained strong in 2021, committing just two errors (both with St. Louis) and contributing five assists (including three in the bigs) from the corner outfield positions. This contributed to his solid 0.6 fWAR/0.7 bWAR delivered during his rookie season.

Between Memphis and St. Louis in 2021, Nootbaar received just 226 at-bats – about half a normal season. Part of that was due to the aforementioned hand injury but he also did not play every day with the Cardinals.

Lars Nootbaar (left) (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

This is almost certainly one reason he was sent to the Arizona Fall League prospect showcase after the Cardinals were eliminated from playoff contention.

In the AFL, Nootbaar was the regular right fielder and leadoff man for the Glendale Desert Dogs. He hit exceptionally well in his 70 at-bats over 18 games, finishing third in the league both with his .643 slugging and 1.080 OPS. Nootbaar was rewarded with a start in the nationally televised Fall Stars Game, was named to the All-AFL Team and received MVP notice from veteran scout Bernie Pleskoff.

2022 outlook

Barring any unexpected veteran free agent outfield signings ahead by the Cardinals, Nootbaar will be St. Louis’ fourth outfielder to open 2022 and presumably would be the first to step into the starting lineup if any of the three starters – Tyler O’Neill, Bader and Dylan Carlson – become unavailable. Nootbaar’s left-handed bat could also position him for some designated hitter duty – if his offense is above average.

Further, Nootbaar has become a fan favorite maybe initially due to his unique name, but also for his hustling play and positive approach.

Having said that, I am still unsure who Nootbaar is as a hitter. He has moved up so quickly and has never gotten into a long groove at any level – and that includes St. Louis.

His career OPS prior to 2021 was just .668 and he was not ranked in this Top 50 coming into the season. That changed after his exceptional May in Memphis, superb August with St. Louis and great October in the AFL, but in between, he was not exceptional.

There is perhaps no better indicator of Nootbaar’s rapid rise through the minor leagues and his relative inexperience than this. He has never played in as many as 60 games at any level of professional baseball. In fact, his 58 contests after reaching St. Louis in 2021 set his new career high.

Overall, moving ahead quickly is certainly a positive. Then again, most opponents may not have seen him in more than one series before he proceeded to the next level.

Also of some concern is that his BABIP at Springfield and Memphis was a career-high .348, raising the question of how much of his 2021 emergence was aided by good fortune. (On the other side of the coin, with St. Louis, his BABIP was low at .273.)

Future outlook

A professional scout familiar with Nootbaar made an admission following the 2021 season. “He might be a little better than we thought, but he is not an everyday player,” the evaluator said. “A platoon with (Juan) Yepez might be his best fit as the Cardinals need left-handed bats.”

At the other end of the spectrum, some (including one organization insider) have already drawn the conclusion that Nootbaar will one day be a National League All-Star. However, until he gets more major league at-bats, I am going to be from Missouri on him for a while longer.

Our Future Value for Lars is between a platoon player and an average everyday player. Either one would be an exceptional return from an eighth-rounder and warrants another tip of the cap to the organization’s scouting and player development functions.

MLB debut: 2021
Rule 5 Eligible: not applicable

Our 2022 Top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects, grading scales and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the Top 50 countdown and 12 in-depth, follow-up articles planned daily into early 2022.

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects for 2022


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TCN 2022 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #11 – Brendan Donovan


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