Washington D.C. is home to the President, the Supreme Court, Senators and Congressmen, and Senators’ and Congressmen’s mistresses. Our nation’s capital is also home to professional sports franchises whose expectations are higher than Trent Williams off the field, yet they underachieve like Trent Williams on the field. But enough about the Silver-Baked Gorilla, hasn’t he suffered enough? Rather than going on and on about how futile our professional sports teams are, let’s take a look at the underappreciated players on our beloved squads. These are the guys who fly under the radar, make major contributions to their teams, but do not get the same recognition as their big name teammates. I have selected two guys per team and named each segment after a player who was underappreciated on these teams long before George W. Bush couldn’t say “totalitarian”. Everybody good with the rules? Ok…LEGGO!
THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS (THE NOOK LOGAN DIVISION)
SP- Jordan Zimmermann
Heading into the 2009 season Jordan Zimmermann was the Nationals top pitching prospect, but he instantly became no. 2 the millisecond Stephen Strasburg signed his contract. Granted, everyone wants to focus on Stephen Strasburg, and rightfully so, but Jordan Zimmermann WILL BE the 2 in this legitimate 1-2 punch for years to come. Zimmermann was called up in 2009 and was relatively impressive over his first 16 starts, but in typical D.C. sports fashion he succumbed to a torn UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) in his right elbow, which required Tommy John surgery. Tommy John requires about 18 months for recovery, some guys heal faster, and some guys heal slower. Regardless it generally takes 1-2 years for pitchers to get back to full strength. Zimmermann is one of the guys who heals faster, and was back pitching in the minors in 2010. He made it back up to the Big Leagues later that season, and made a couple of quality starts before the season ended. Last year was his first full year back with the big club since the surgery and the Nationals wisely limited his innings. 2012 will mark the season in which Zimmermann is completely recovered from the elbow surgery and I expect him to really take off. Zimmermann is very polished on the mound and rarely gets flustered out there. Control is not an issue with Zimmermann as he throws more strikes than a disgruntled labor union. He has been hit around a little bit but that’s purely because he is a young pitcher still learning how to get big leaguer hitters out. Jordan Zimmermann should form a dynamic top of the rotation with Strasburg for years to come.
1B/OF- Mike Morse aka Big Mike aka The Code aka Beast Mode
I know what you are probably asking yourself…how could a guy who hit .303 with 31 homers and drove in 91 RBI’s last season possibly be a Sneaky All-Star? Well because this is D.C. Sports and we as fans have been conditioned to believe that when things seem too good to be true, odds are they are too good to be true. The feeling amongst many Nats fans is that Mike Morse’s 2011 season was too good to be true and it will be hard for him to duplicate in 2012, thus qualifying him as underappreciated and not getting the recognition he deserves. Those of us who know baseball knew that Mike Morse was capable of this kind of season because Big Mike dropped 15 bombs and batted .289 in limited spot duty in 2010. For whatever reason Mike Rizzo felt it was in the best interest of the Nationals to throw money at Adam LaRoche and keep Mike Morse on the bench. Well the baseball Gods intervened and sliced LaRoche’s labrum thus giving Big Mike the 1st base spot and a season to flourish. Big Mike’s biggest asset (besides being tall, dark, and handsome) is his freakish athletic ability for being a guy that size. He was drafted as a shortstop by the Mariners, and rose through their system as an IF/OF combo guy; you don’t believe me? Check this video out. With LaRoche “healthy” the Nationals are expected to move Big Mike to left field. You should have no worries about Big Mike playing left field after watching that video and seeing Jay Buhner working one-on-one with Big Mike. Mike Morse aka Big Mike aka Beast Mode aka The Code is a great big league hitter and so it really does not matter where they play him defensively just as long as they find a place for him in the lineup to protect Ryan Zimmerman. We like to dog Mike Rizzo, but he deserves a ton of credit for trading Ryan Langerhans for Mike Morse back in the summer of 2009. Say that again, Ryan Langerhans for Mike Morse. The General Manager of the Mariners basically traded away a used car that was reliable, got you from point A to point B and showed signs of really being a stable car for years…for a Gremlin. Whether it is 1st base, Left Field, or serving $12.00 Margaritas at the Red Loft, Mike Morse is a major contributor to the Nats and I am looking forward to how he follows up his impressive 2011 campaign.
THE BALTIMORE ORIOLES (THE JEFF REBOULET DIVISION)
SP- Jeremy Guthrie:
Being the ace of the Orioles pitching staff is like being Albert Haynesworth’s favorite stripper because even though you’re making good money you’d rather being doing it for someone else. But this is exactly why Jeremy Guthrie is a true representative of the Sneaky All-Stars. He has been the O’s no. 1 since 2007 despite being given some of the worst run support in the league coupled with a bullpen who blows saves like Lindsey Lohan blows 2nd, 3rd, and 4th chances. Guthrie does not have the wins to his record that he deserves, but he maintains a low enough ERA, keeps the O’s in games, mentors the younger pitchers, and never complains about things that John Lackey and A.J. Burnett would raise hell about. Jeremy Guthrie is a very talented pitcher and even though he is a major asset to the O’s (isn’t that like being the tallest Oompa-Loompa?) I wish he would get traded to a good team just so he can finally pitch in meaningful games and receive the recognition he deserves. I wish Guthrie could be part of the epic turn around of the Orioles, but he’s 32 and I just don’t see him pitching until he’s 57.
Jim Johnson came up through the O’s farm system as a starting pitcher, but made his name with the Orioles as a reliever. He features a fastball in the mid to upper 90’s and has a sinker that plummets out of the strike zone quicker than Russell Brand’s acting career. He has been a very reliable bullpen arm for the past few seasons and boasts a career 3.31 ERA (including 2.67 last year). He has struggled when given the ball in the 9th inning, but closing is not for everyone, just ask Kevin Gregg. Jim Johnson has been an anchor in the O’s bullpen and very reliable set up man. But being a set up man for an Orioles closer is like being Gary Busey’s publicist; no matter what you do, or how hard you work, he’s just going to screw it up anyways. The Orioles are contemplating moving Johnson into the starting rotation this year, and if this is true he may finally get the recognition he rightfully deserves.
THE WASHINGTON CAPITALS (THE STEVE KONOWALCHUK DIVISION)
DISCLAIMER: I REALLY DO NOT KNOW MUCH ABOUT HOCKEY, SO THE TRUE HOCKEY FANS SHOULD TAKE EVERYTHING I’M ABOUT TO SAY WITH A GRAIN OF SALT
D- John Carlson
Last year was Carlson’s first full year with the Capitals and he emerged as a cornerstone of the franchise and a very talented defender. When us common folk talk about the Caps, we talk about Alexander Ovechkin, Nicholas Backstrom, Mike Green’s orange vespa, and how much Alexander Semin is the biggest waste of talent since David Hasselhoff left Baywatch. These are the big name players on the Caps, but John Carlson has just as much talent! He is a big guy at 6’3” 218 lbs. and is an enforcer on defense. He is only 21 years old so he has a lot to learn and a lot to improve on, but the sky is the limit. He is an offensive minded defenseman and can be pretty explosive back there based on his rare combo of size and speed. His instincts and high ceiling of potential will make John Carlson a household name in the DMV in the coming years. To recap: John Carlson is big, talented, and could go unrecognized even if he was dancing the Cupid Shuffle at Union Jack’s at the Ballston mall.
C- Marcus Johannson
Marcus Johannson aka “Mojo” is an electric spark plug for the Caps who makes an impact every time he comes flying in off the bench. Like Carlson, he was a 1st round pick of the Caps and came up through the Caps farm system. Mojo is one of the fastest skaters on the team and is smoother than the top of Bruce Boudreau’s head. Some of you may remember that Mojo was called up from the minors last year, but was not expected to stick around for the whole year. But it became pretty apparent that he had what it took to stick around and notched 13 goals and 14 assists. Already through 25 games, Mojo has tallied 6 goals and 8 dimes (do they call them dimes in hockey?) and will continue to add to these numbers. The major knock on Mojo is that he is a bit undersized, but his ability to score and his lightning fast ability to skate will continue to make him a building block for the Washington Capitals.
THE WASHINGTON WIZARDS (THE CHRIS WHITNEY DIVISION)
SG- Jordan Crawford
The NBA Lockout has ended! Did any of you notice? Well for many of you the news that the lockout ended made as much noise as a fart during a Disturbed concert, but I personally am glad to have an NBA season. The NBA lockout was damaging because it turned off many fans, teams lost revenue, and not to mention the extended time off gave Andray Blatche, Javale McGee, and Nick Young more time to eat Chipotle, play video games, and continue to abuse social media. These three clowns aside, there are some pretty good young players on the Wizards roster. We all know about John Wall and his unlimited potential, but his backcourt mate Jordan Crawford has just as much upside. Many of you may know Jordan Crawford as the apple of Gus Johnson’s eye, or as the college kid who dunked on Lebron. It is my hope that we will all come to know Jordan Crawford as the jelly to John Wall’s peanut butter; the ham to John Wall’s cheese; or perhaps the Fred Davis to Fred Davis’s bong. Jordan Crawford is undersized, but he is athletic and he can flat out score. Since coming over from the Hawks in yet another quality trade by Ernie Grunfeld, Crawford averaged 16 points per game with lethal three-point range. He also dropped 39 on the Heat and followed that up with 29 vs. the Pacers. Crawford is labeled as a shoot-first guard, but in reality he is a shoot-first, shoot-second, and even shoot-third kind of guard. Jordan has never seen a shot he didn’t like, but unlike Nick Young, he actually makes a lot of them. Crawford is a bit of a liability on defense, but he is still very young and has a lot to learn about basketball. He may project as a 6th man or as a key bench piece, but ideally the Wizards will let Nick Young leave via free agency and open up the starting guard spot to Jordan Crawford. It’s not unreasonable to think this guy can average 20 points per game this season, and as a Wizards fan his potential is something I am really looking forward to in the 2011-2012 season.
F- Chris Singleton
The Wizards selected Chris Singleton 18th overall in last year’s NBA draft, and has been deemed by many NBA people as potentially the steal of the draft. He had a standout career at Florida State and brings with him a solid offensive game and an even stronger defensive presence. As mentioned before, Singleton is from Florida State so we know three things, he’s got toughness to his game, he’s supremely athletic, and he has been brainwashed to think Bobby Bowden’s farts smell like Febreeze. He is only a rookie so it’s impossible to name this guy as underappreciated when he hasn’t even played a game, but he is definitely under the radar. People only want to talk about Jan Vesely because he was the top pick for the Wizards, but Singleton will inevitably be a better player for the Wizards. Singleton will make an impact on the Wizards immediately because he will be the plus defender on the wing that this team has needed worse than Paris Hilton needs to get her Valtrex prescription refilled.
THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS (THE LORENZO ALEXANDER DIVISION)
LB/DE- Lorenzo Alexander
When giving this segment a title, names ran through my head like Ladell Betts, Darnerian McCants, Lemar Marshall, and Ade Jimoh (anyone?). But at the end of the day the most underappreciated Redskin of the past few years has got to Lorenzo Alexander. Lorenzo has played all over the field, guard, tight end, linebacker, and defensive end. He is a special teams stalwart and team leader. He has done everything asked of him by the Redskins and then some. His flexibility and ability to adapt to many positions on the field has made him an invaluable player for the Redskins ever since 2006. Lorenzo will probably never be a full time starter in the NFL, but his contributions to special teams and in the locker room make him an unsung hero. He has continually been a bright spot for the Redskins over the previous forgettable seasons, and deserves to be overlooked no more!
OG- Chris Chester
Think back over the past few seasons at how many times we had to hear Casey Rabach’s name called for holding or false starts. This number is roughly 124,803, which is startlingly equal to the number of times I would like to kick Jerry Sandusky in the balls. Quick sidebar: 124,803 is way to low for the number of kicks that should be administered to Sandusky’s nether-regions but I just don’t have the endurance in my legs to kick anymore times than that. But I digress; you NEVER hear Chris Chester’s number being called for silly false starts or dumb penalties. The point I’m getting at is that Chris Chester is a massive upgrade whether he is playing center or guard. He has been a steady presence on the offensive line in a season where our offensive linemen have been dropping faster then a 12 year old’s nuts. (WOW, I am really talking a lot about nuts aren’t I? I’ll try to rein it in!) Chester is very athletic for an offensive lineman, which was obvious when he ran a 4.84 40 yard dash at the scouting combine back in 2006. A sub 5.00 40 yard dash for an offensive lineman is about as common as hearing Bill O’Reilly compliment President Obama’s decision making. Chester is a good fit for the Shanahan zone-blocking scheme because of his athletic ability, agility, and high character. He is a smart player who has a committed work ethic and can literally go a full game without ever having his name or number called. This is the life of offensive linemen; the only people who recognize their contributions are their coaches, the quarterbacks, and the running backs. Offensive linemen are the unsung heroes of football, but they are also the American Idol’s of the buffet line.