The MLB First-Year Player draft begins June 9th and Clemson's Chris Okey has widely been evaluated as one of the draft's top college bats.
The Tigers' true junior catcher had a breakout year in the Tigers ACC Championship campaign. After a solid sophomore season in which he hit .315/.389/.545 (i.e., BA/OBP/SLG) with 12 home runs last year, Okey improved his game in the subtle ways that make players effective major league players.
Through 60 games this season (he played in 61 as a sophomore), Okey has earned 44 base on balls compared to 27 the year prior. His extra base hit and strikeout numbers are almost identical to last season (one more of each), but he has grounded into 7 fewer double players (9 vs. 2). In all, he has an impressive slash line of .330/.450/.577 giving him an OPS over 1.000 (for reference, Mike Trout finished last season with a .992 OPS).
What makes Okey such a strong prospect is his well rounded skill set. His .330 batting average and more impressive his .450 OBP make him an effective top of the order hitter. His speed is average, but good for a catcher (similar to a Russel Martin or J.T. Realmuto). 12 home runs puts him at 4th in the ACC behind Seth Beer (15), Wake Forest's Will Craig (15), and Louisville's Corey Ray (14). 12 home runs in 60 games comes out to 30 home runs in 150 games - though I don't think anybody is projecting that much power upside for Okey.
When Chris Okey came to Clemson, he immediately began spelling catcher Garrett Boulware behind the plate. Eventually, he proved to be so good that Boulware began splitting time between catcher, left field, and DH to afford Okey more playing time behind the plate. Boulware was drafted in the 16th round by the Cincinnati Reds after Okey's freshman year, leaving the mantle at catcher the plate to the young Floridian.
While changes to the NCAA regulation baseball's make it hard to compare batting statistics, it's probably fair to say Okey hits for more power and finds his way on base more often (that .450 OBP is excellent). Still though, the key area that will help Okey go much higher than the 16th round is his catching ability.
Will Cheney of Last Word on Sports had the following to say about Chris Okey:
His athleticism and strong arm give him an opportunity to catch at the MLB level. As a catcher, he profiles as an above average hitter pushing him up the draft. For those reasons, Chris Okey should be one of the earlier college bats coming off the board towards the end of the first round or early in the second round.
Note from ClemsonFlinn on Other Draftable Clemson Players:
Weston Wilson started out as a third baseman for the Tigers but moved to second base this season and largely found it as a better fit. Second base is probably where he projects best as his 21 extra base hits is more impressive coming from the middle infield.
Eli White, while a solid player for Clemson's program, didn’t quite live up to expectations. White struggled immensely during the early portion of the season both at the plate and in the field, but his bat really came alive down the stretch. He doesn't have much home run or extra base power which will keep him from rising too high on draft boards.
Clate Schmidt has already been drafted twice, most recently by the Boston Red Sox. He will be considered in the middle to late rounds based on his pitching repertoire and work ethic.
Reliever Alex Bostic is another pitching prospect likely to be drafted and signed. Bostic largely struggled during his time in Tigertown, but because of his ability to mix pitches and reach high pitch speeds from the left side, teams will surely be intrigued. His 43 Ks in 32 IP this season gave him a spectacular 12.09 K/9. Teams will be interested based on his high ceiling.
Pat Krall, who has undoubtedly been our best pitcher, could also be considered in the later rounds but MLB teams look more closely at potential rather than production. Krall has been outstanding for the Tigers, but his pitches only reach the high 80s. Right now, I expect Krall back for his senior season.
We'll be tuning in from June 9th to June 11th to watch the draft and see where Chris Okey and the other Tigers begin their professional baseball careers. We wish them well!