With pitchers and catchers across Major League Baseball’s 30 teams expected to report to spring training in early February, baseball season is officially around the corner. There are 34 former Gamecocks who now find themselves with a big-league organization and have their sights set on another year of baseball at the professional level in 2019.
From Jackie Bradley Jr. and Steve Pearce who are looking to help the Boston Red Sox defend their World Series championship to South Carolina’s 2018 opening day starter Adam Hill who is looking to advance through the Milwaukee Brewers minor league system, each former South Carolina player has his own expectations and goals for the upcoming campaign. Below are the nine Gamecock players who saw big-league action in 2018, followed by 25 additional Gamecocks with big-league aspirations of their own.
Jackie Bradley Jr. — Boston Red Sox
The 2018 American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player enters his seventh season with the Red Sox and can already be penciled in as the team’s starting center fielder. “JBJ,” who prides himself on contributing both at the plate and in the field, earned a Gold Glove Award in 2018.
Sam Dyson — San Francisco Giants
Dyson posted a 2.69 earned run average and 56 strikeouts across 70.1 innings in his first first full season with the Giants in 2018. This year, Dyson will be deployed nearly every other night by manager Bruce Bochy during the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Dyson, who also has experience shutting the door on his opponents, could be thrust into a handful of save situations. If so, he will look to improve, as he converted just three of eight opportunities in 2018 for the Bay Area club.
Grayson Greiner — Detroit Tigers
When baseball season wrapped up in 2017, there were seven former Gamecocks who appeared in a major league game that year. In 2018, Grayson Greiner added another tally to that total on June 7, when the 6’6” catcher made his Major League debut for the Detroit Tigers. Greiner’s debut came against another former South Carolina player, Whit Merrifield. Moments after Greiner knocked the first hit of his career in his first at-bat, the 26-year-old Columbia native was given a congratulatory pat on the back from Merrifield. Greiner has a serious shot to be the everyday catcher in the Motor City in 2019.
Whit Merrifield — Kansas City Royals
Now that the ink has dried on Merrifield’s recent four-year extension with the American League Central ball club, the Royals’ star second baseman can head into his fourth season focused on providing his team the same production and consistency he did last year. In 2018, Merrifield led the majors in hits and stolen bases. His name was on the lineup card just about every single time his team played, as he played in 158 of his team’s 162 games. As the commencement of his fourth season with Kansas City nears, the 30 year old is primed for another strong year in K.C.
Jordan Montgomery — New York Yankees
After starting six games for the New York Yankees in his sophomore season and posting a 3.62 earned run average, delivering two wins, and striking out 23 batters, Montgomery was forced to the disabled list with a season-ending elbow injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery on June 7, and it is unclear whether he will return to face big-league hitters in 2019. Regardless of when his return does come, the Bronx Bombers will get back an impressive left-fielder who struck out 144 batters across 155.1 innings in a rookie 2017 season.
Steve Pearce — Boston Red Sox
Last year’s mid-season trade from Toronto to Boston proved valuable for the veteran, as he helped the franchise he grew up rooting for win its fourth World Series title in 15 years en route to winning World Series MVP. In the process, Pearce joined David Eckstein of the 2006 Cardinals (Florida) and David Freese (Missouri) of the 2011 Cardinals as the third former SEC player to win World Series MVP. Heading into 2019, Pearce figures to split time with teammate Mitch Moreland at first base, but the Red Sox may also slot him in left field on occasion. When opening day comes, he will start his 13th season with his fifth different team.
Justin Smoak — Toronto Blue Jays
Smoak’s 169 home runs at South Carolina are more than any other player in program history, and he ranks in its top five in games, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, runs batted in and walks. Smoak followed up a productive 2017 season with another one in 2018, slugging 25 home runs and knocking 34 doubles. Looking ahead to 2019, Smoak is expected to provide the Blue Jays a big bat in the middle of their lineup once again.
Christian Walker — Arizona Diamondbacks
Appearing in just 37 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2018, Christian Walker was a fork in the road behind star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt on the National League West ball club’s depth chart. However, Goldschmidt’s trade to St. Louis earlier this off-season opens the door for someone to step up and claim the first base job. Walker is a solid candidate to do just that. The former Baltimore Orioles Minor League Player of the Year will look to take advantage of his opportunity in 2019.
Tyler Webb — St. Louis Cardinals
Tyler Webb, formerly of the Yankees and Padres but now with the Cardinals, represents the ninth active Major League player who spent his college days donning garnet and black. Similar to Christian Walker, Webb’s 2019 prospects are somewhat unclear, as his performance during the 2018 season does not suggest he is a shoe-in by any means to make the Cardinals’ opening day roster. With that, Webb has something to prove, and a strong showing for the Cardinals in Jupiter, FL could give him the potential to be a member of the Cardinals' pitching staff in 2019.
Here is where the 25 remaining South Carolina baseball alums finished within their respective organizations in 2018:
Peter Moooney — INF — Marlins
Max Schrock — INF — Cardinals
Gene Cone — OF — Mets
Wil Crowe — RHP — Nationals
Tanner English — OF — Twins
Bryan Harper — RHP — Nationals
Evan Marzilli — OF — Diamondbacks
Joel Seddon — RHP — Athletics
Dom Thompson-Williams — OF — Yankees* (Now with Mariners after trade on 11-19-18)
Braden Webb — RHP — Brewers
Taylor Widener — RHP — Athletics
Jack Wynkoop — LHP — Rockies
Tyler Johnson — RHP — White Sox
Kyle Martin — 1B — Phillies
Marcus Mooney — INF — Braves
John Parke — LHP — White Sox
Madison Stokes — INF — Phillies
Jonah Bride — INF — Athletics
Carlos Cortes — INF — Mets
Eddy Demurias — RHP — Reds
Alex Destino — OF — White Sox
Adam Hill — RHP — Mets* (Now with Brewers after trade on 1-5-19)
Josh Raegan — LHP — Athletics
Clarke Schmidt — RHP — Yankees
LT Tolbert — INF — Diamondbacks