Five Reasons to Watch the Nats in 2009

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, January 09, 2009 | , , , , , , | 1 comments »

In an effort to cheer up Steph from We've Got Heart, who was majorly bumming on facebook last night about the news that the Nats apparently are out of the bidding for any of the major free agents left on the market, here are five reasons Nats fans--true Nats fans--should watch the Nats this season. Casual fans, you're pretty much on your own. We'll get you back when (if) the team starts winning.

1. John Lannan. The 24 year old lefty went 9-15 with a 3.91 ERA and 1.341 WHIP in 182 innings in his first full season in the majors. He was named to the MLB All-Rookie team as the LHP. Right now, he's the only sure thing in the starting rotation. But he's the rare guy that even at an early age is a pitcher--not just a thrower. He doesn't overpower people, but knows how to work the corners, and the count, to his advantage.

2. Elijah Dukes. When healthy, Dukes is the guy on the Nats roster that could scare people. Long touted for his "tools", in 2008 he took a big step in finally putting some things together. In his final 120 at-bats, he his .283 with nine home runs and five stolen bases. His OBP for the season was .386, which considering where he was at the end of May is simply incredible. The Nats might try to move him to center, as he has better natural instincts than the incumbent Lastings Milledge, which would make him even more valuable. If they could get production out of someone else in right.

3. Jesus Flores. Flores had a quietly productive 2008 season, finishing 11th among catchers in RBI even though he played only 90 games. His performance really shouldn't have come as a surprise, though, considering the Nationals considered him their long-term solution at catcher going into the season--even though they stunted his growth as a big leaguer by signing two complete wastes of money that blocked him for two months. He hit 21 home runs in the minors in 2006, showing just how much potential he has for the future, and considering he only turned 24 in the off season, that future might last for a long time. Woe, Mets fans.

4. Shawn Hill and Nick Johnson. Enigmas 1 and 1a. Both could be solid major league players if they could finally get their injuries behind them. Johnson is an on-base machine, and while his raw power has been sapped and will not be a 30-homer guy, he can provide the Nats with consistent on-base production, something that really hurt this team last season. He was also a quality defender, which we will have to watch as the injuries have probably reduced his capacity there. Hill has one of the nastiest sinkers in the game and in 37 major league starts has struck out twice as many as he's walked. Nats fans can only hope he does not suffer the same fate as John Patterson.

5. Ryan Zimmerman. Lest we forget the face of the franchise. It's hard to imagine, but Zim is only 24. His 2008 season was curtailed by a shoulder injury, but when he returned healthy in September he hit .290 with five home runs--positive notes to take into the off-season. He still needs to learn to be a little more patient at the plate, but if Johnson, Dukes, and Willingham can take a little of the media-inflicted pressure off the young third baseman, maybe we can see Zimmerman develop into that cornerstone the front office needs him to be after all.

There are plenty of other plot lines to watch this year too. The rotation will probably be a revolving door of youngsters (Olsen, Balestar, Martis, Zimmermann, Mock, Bergmann) and retreads (Cabrera, Chacin). Will Christian Guzman be good Guz or bad Guz? Exactly who IS the second baseman? Wither Wily Mo? Will Milledge still be with the team on opening day? Is Austin Kearns healthy?

But the five things to watch listed above should provide some entertaining moments this summer, even if the end result is less than what fans would like. I'm not going to go all pollyanna on you and predict a division title. Heck, .500 is out of the question. But wins and losses aside, there are things to watch for at Nationals Park this summer.

But make no mistakes, it will be another long summer. Enough to test any Nats fan.

All photos (c) C. Nichols 2008.


  1. Stephanie // January 9, 2009 at 2:36 PM  

    Thanks Dave! That helped me see that there are a few bright spots to look forward too. It will be fun to see the young guys hopefully shine this year.