By: Joe Pohoryles
Entering 2020, the Big Four DC sports teams are in vastly different positions. The Capitals and Nationals are enjoying great success, coming off recent championships and in great position to capture a second. The Wizards and Redskins, however, are in dark days, and are already looking to build a brighter future.
The players greatly responsible for that future can already be found on Washington’s rosters today, some already among the best on the team, others waiting to crack into the top level. None of these young men can rent a car, but they will soon be in the franchise’s driver’s seat. Here are the top 25 players on DC sports teams that are under 25 years of age:
(Note: This is how they currently stand, and is not based on potential impact. *= minor league player.)
25. C Connor McMichael, 18 (Capitals*)
24. D Martin Fehervary, 20 (Capitals*)
23. INF Carter Kieboom, 22 (Nationals*)
These three have extremely limited experience at the top level, but are three bright spots in the future of their respective teams. McMichael was the Caps’ 2019 first-round pick and has been lighting it up with the London Knights. He’s tied for fifth in points in the OHL with 59 (25g, 34a) in just 27 games. He just helped Team Canada win gold at the World Juniors, scoring once in the gold medal game, and he turns 19 in a week.
There have been rumblings about Fehervary potentially joining the parent club from Hershey, as the blue line is in need of improvement, and he has been doing well in the AHL. Kieboom was expected to be the Nats’ starting second baseman in 2020 before the signing of Starlin Castro, but he should still be a regular in the majors sooner rather than later.
22. F Admiral Schofield, 22 (Wizards)
21. DT Tim Settle, 22 (Redskins)
20. OG Wes Martin, 23 (Redskins)
19. OT Geron Christian, 23 (Redskins)
18. WR Kelvin Harmon, 23 (Redskins)
17. F Isaac Bonga, 20 (Wizards)
16. WR Steven Sims, Jr., 22 (Redskins)
This pack of players are guys with varying levels of upside, but will likely remain in the reserve roles they currently hold. That does not make them any less important. Settle is likely to cycle into what should be a loaded defensive front for the Redskins in 2020, and Martin and Christian will be serviceable depth for an offensive line that has a lot of pieces to put into place.
The Redskins are in need of pass-catchers, and Harmon and Sims look primed to take big steps after promising rookie campaigns. Bonga and Schofield still have a lot of room to develop for the Wizards, but could easily turn into valuable bench assets someday.
15. F Mo Wagner, 22 (Wizards)
14. G Troy Brown, Jr., 20 (Wizards)
13. QB Dwayne Haskins, Jr., 22 (Redskins)
12. DT Da’Ron Payne, 22 (Redskins)
11. DE Montez Sweat, 23 (Redskins)
These guys still have room to grow but have shown a lot of promise. Wagner and Brown have shown flashes of brilliance, and Brown has even been pushed into a starting role with all the injuries the Wizards have experienced this season. The two could very well develop into key pieces on future teams.
Haskins was drafted to be the quarterback of the future, and he seemed to improve with every game toward the end of 2019. It will be interesting to see how he will mesh with the new coaching staff and offensive system, but his talent has everyone hopeful.
Sweat and Payne certainly top the list for most intimidating names, but have otherwise had quiet starts to their career, especially relative to their first-round pick status. Still, Sweat finished his rookie year with seven sacks (5.5 coming in the final eight games), and Payne looks poised to take the next step in year three. Both should star in a fearsome D-line in 2020.
10. LB Cole Holcomb, 23 (Redskins)
A 2019 fifth-rounder, Holcomb was a pleasant surprise, leading rookies across the league in tackles with 101. With a linebacking core that was perceived as a major weakness, and has seen a lot of turnover in recent years, Holcomb could provide much-needed stability and production, especially with new head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio at the helm.
9. D Jonas Siegenthaler, 22 (Capitals)
Another surprise, Siegenthaler has brought solid play to an otherwise shaky defensive unit in 2019-20. He has been a fantastic fit on the third pair, and has proved he can be a fixture on the blue line for years to come.
8. F Rui Hachimura, 21 (Wizards)
His selection at ninth overall in 2019 was a bit of a head-scratcher, but when he has been healthy, “Japanese Jordan” has proven his playing style transitions to the NBA level. At 21, he’s physically more mature than most rookies. The 2019 Julius Erving Award winner (for best small forward in college basketball) should remain a fixture in the starting lineup when he returns from injury.
7. C Thomas Bryant, 22 (Wizards)
Another key player on the injury report, Bryant’s gritty play around the rim earned him the starting center role and a three-year, $25 million deal to remain in DC. After shining in the G League with the Lakers organization, the former Indiana Hoosier has proven his worth as a quality starter at the NBA level. Hopefully he and Hachimura can be longtime frontcourt partners on future playoff teams.
6. G Ilya Samsonov, 22 (Capitals)
The Caps’ top prospect entering this season, Samsonov was called up to be Braden Holtby’s back-up and has shined. He became the fastest rookie to reach 10 wins in franchise history, needing only 12 starts, and has quickly emerged as one of the best young netminders in the league. With Holtby’s future in question as his contract expires, Samsonov may soon become the new No. 1 in DC.
5. OF Victor Robles, 22 (Nationals)
The longtime Nats’ top prospect finally broke into the majors for good last season as the team’s starting center fielder. He was consistently at the bottom of the lineup, and he nearly disappeared on offense during the World Series this past October, but overall he turned in decent numbers at the plate, especially for his age and lineup spot. His stellar defense earned him a Gold Glove nomination, and he will soon be relied on for better offense with Anthony Rendon’s departure. His stock is only going up.
4. WR Terry McLaurin, 23 (Redskins)
In a lost 2019 Redskins season, the team at least found a go-to pass-catcher after lacking one for so long. The Ohio State product was among the best rookie receivers in the league despite the instability at the quarterback position. Had he not missed the final week of the season due to a concussion, the third-round pick would have broken the franchise record for most receiving yards in a rookie season. There is a lot to be excited about with “Scary Terry.”
3. LW Jakub Vrana, 23 (Capitals)
Vrana played a key role as a rookie on the 2018 Stanley Cup team, and has since developed into a legit top six forward. He has improved with every season, and has made up big time for the production that was lost through free agency in recent years. At 23, he’s already in his third full NHL season, and should remain a major part of the team’s future after the Ovechkin era eventually reaches its end.
2. DT Jonathan Allen, 24 (Redskins)
During his final college season at Alabama in 2016, it was widely expected the eventual Nagurski/Bednarik winner would be among the first players selected in the 2017 draft. A shoulder surgery coming out of college sunk his stock slightly, but the Redskins’ front office was shocked and delighted when Allen fell into their lap with the 17th pick. After an injury-shortened rookie season, Allen has arguably become the team’s best defensive player. He’s developed into a leader as well, becoming a defensive captain in just his third season. He should benefit greatly from the Rivera-Del Rio hirings, and help lead the team back to relevancy.
1. OF Juan Soto, 21 (Nationals)
After playing an irreplaceable role in the team’s World Series run, “Childish Bambino” enters 2020 as not only the best batter on the Nationals, but also among the best in the major leagues. His Gold Glove nomination and Second Team All-MLB nod prove his all-around talent, but his flair at the plate and highlight reel dingers make him one of the most exciting players in The Show. He has an argument for best player in DC of any age, making his selection for the top player under 25 a no-brainer.
(Cover photo credit: USA Today Sports, Getty Images)