It was an up-and-down season for Clemson baseball a year ago, as the team went 32-29 overall, including a disappointing 0-2 as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Fullerton Regional.
The lack of championship level success in recent years cost Hall of Fame coach Jack Legget his job, ending his 22-year run as head coach of the Tigers.
It wasn’t an easy year by any means for the program. However, one major bright spot was catcher Chris Okey, who put together an All-American campaign as a sophomore.
Okey hit .315 with 12 home runs, 57 RBIs and a .389 on-base percentage in 61 starts behind the plate.
He even was named a team captain as a sophomore by his teammates.
“Having the respect of my teammates as a sophomore was a huge honor for me,” Okey said. “ With the position I play, it kind of requires me to be a leader. It was very huge for me to get the respect of my teammates.”
Okey takes pride in being a team leader, and an individual other players can look up to.
“I think emotionally as a leader is what sets me apart,” Okey said. “The position I play requires me to be in that role. It is all part of it. You have to take on the role, and it’s all about having confidence in yourself and hopefully the team has confidence in you. You have to make the pitchers feel confident in themselves.”
Okey had an outstanding sophomore season, after struggled his freshman year when he hit .248 with four homers, 41 RBIs and a .311 on-base percentage in 61 starts.
“At the beginning it was pretty tough since the game seemed to be pretty fast,” Okey said of his freshman season. “As time went on I got to use to it. Early on it did catch me pretty quickly. But, the more reps you get the more comfortable you get and realize that it’s just a game. It worked out well for me.”
A native of Mount Dora, Fla, Okay knew coming out of high school that he wanted to play baseball at Clemson.
“Whenever I was a young kid I always wanted to play at Clemson when I grew up,” Okey said. “When they decided to offer my, I knew for a fact that I wanted to go here so I didn’t think twice on if I wanted to or not.
“My mom went here so I had some background and my grandfather was the president of IPTAY. I had a pretty deep family background and grew up a Clemson fan. Clemson caught my eye.”
Now in his junior season, Okey is looking to put up another phenomenal season, while hopefully leading his team to heights it hasn’t seen in recent years.
Okey spent this past offseason working on improving all facets of his game he said. He also played with Team USA this past summer and said that he hopes that his experience playing against elite competition can help him be a better player.
With about a month until the season gets underway, Okey has already been receiving some preseason attention. He was named a preseason first-team All-American by Perfect Game and a second-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.
His name also has been tossed around in early MLB First-Year Player Draft discussions as he is ranked 42nd on MLB.com’s preseason draft top 50 prospects list and 25th on Baseball America’s college top 100 prospects list.
Okey is a well-rounded player and is regarded as the top catching prospect in June’s MLB Draft.
When he is drafted in June, it will mark the second time that he has been selected by a MLB franchise. Coming out of high school in 2013, he was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 31st round, but decided to attend Clemson instead.
“I have always wanted to play at the next level,” Okey said. “That’s why I came to Clemson because it gave me the best shot to do so. It is always in the back of my mind.”
Despite all of the preseason attention he has received, Okey isn’t worried about it. Instead, he is focused on leading his team to a successful season.
“The preseason awards are great to have, but at the end of the day they don’t mean too much,” Okey said. “You have to stay focused on what you have to do. You have to stay focused on your team and the schedule ahead and see how many wins we can squeeze out. Hopefully as many as possible, and then get to the tournament and get to Omaha. That’s the goal at the end of the day. That’s what we came here for.
“As a player, as a captain, I have to keep moving forward for the rest of the team. It’s all part of it and it’s all part of the process. You have to keep moving forward and focusing on the next game ahead.”
You can find more articles on top MLB Draft prospects here.