Former Clemson, USC baseball stars looking for big Major League seasons

Expectations high for Brad Miller and Justin Smoak as teammates in Seattle Mariners' infield

Seattle Mariners' Brad Miller, right, high fives on-deck batter Kyle Seager after hitting a first-inning home run off Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer during a baseball game Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Seattle Mariners' Brad Miller, right, high fives on-deck batter Kyle Seager after hitting a first-inning home run off Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer during a baseball game Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

I’d imagine the conversations between Justin Smoak and Brad Miller in the Seattle Mariners’ clubhouse can get pretty interesting.

After all, Smoak is a former South Carolina Gamecock while Miller starred at Clemson.

They weren’t at their respective schools during the same seasons, but it’s a rivalry that runs pretty deep.

However, all differences can be put to side on the field. Smoak, a first baseman, and Miller, a shortstop, join former USC outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. as three Major League Baseball players with Palmetto State ties looking to make huge statements this year.

Smoak stands alone among the three as the one with the most experience. His big league career started with the Texas Rangers, who used a first-round draft pick on him in 2008 to be a power hitter in a power-heavy lineup. But he was traded to Seattle in 2010, and his home-run hitting, RBI-driven career has yet to really take off. He hasn’t hit above .238 to finish a season, and he’s never had more than 55 RBI.

Heading into Wednesday night’s late game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Smoak has already recorded two doubles, one home run and six RBI in his first two games.

The Mariners signed Smoak, to a one-year deal this offseason with an option for 2015, making this a make-or-break season for the powerful switch hitter. They’re batting him cleanup, so they must believe in him at this point.

Much is also expected of Miller, who easily beat out big-time prospect Nick Franklin for the job in spring training. Miller is getting all sorts of buzz as a guy who can reach double digits in home runs and stolen bases while maintaining a reasonable batting average. That’s incredibly appealing for a shortstop hitting second in the order and could ultimately lead to a nice paycheck down the road.

Miller, who hit two home runs in Tuesday’s 8-3 win over the Angels, will have to prove he can keep the job going as an everyday player and be productive, just like Smoak, because the Mariners are very much in “win now” mode since signing former Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano to a $240 million deal in the offseason. They believe they can compete in the tough West Division.

If they do, it probably means Smoak and Miller are living up to the hype.

There’s no question that Bradley is already on a World Series contender.

The member of USC’s two national titles also got a ring last year when the Boston Red Sox won it all. He made the Opening Day starting lineup in 2013 after a scorching spring, but Bradley faltered at the plate early in the season and spent most of the year in the minors.

He was expected to seize the center field job in the offseason after Jacoby Ellsbury bolted for the rival Yankees, but Grady Sizemore, who hadn’t played in the majors since 2011 because of injuries, beat Bradley out for the starting role.

Still, Bradley made the Opening Day roster this week because outfielder Shane Victorino went on the disabled list. With that and Sizemore’s health history, there’s no reason to think Bradley won’t get chances to prove to the Red Sox that he can be a valuable contributor.

Proving it will be the hard part, but that’s what the big leagues are all about this season for Bradley, Smoak and Miller.

Follow Brad Senkiw on Twitter @bsenkiwaim

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