In advance of Thursday's draft, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be drafted in the first round of next Thursday's draft. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Next up is Clemson catcher Chris Okey, a junior from Mount Dora, Fla., who hit .339/.461/.609 with 14 home runs in 61 games for the Tigers this season. According to scouts, Okey is known as a plus hitter with power potential and the ability to become a strong defensive catcher with average to above-average tools across the board. For more on Okey, check out Minor League Ball's scouting report.
Okey has been projected as a late first-rounder in recent mock drafts, with the Mets (31) and Cardinals (34) among the teams linked to him. He spoke at length with MLBDD this week:
When did you first get into baseball as a kid and realize you loved playing the game?
"I started at a pretty young age. Growing up with two older brothers who played baseball ahead of me, it was something that I caught onto quick. I started playing at like the age of five, and growing up through elementary school and middle school I always thought about being a professional baseball player. I've always had a passion for the game. As I've progressed through high school and college, it's grown. It's grown each day."
Who was your favorite team growing up? Favorite player?
"My favorite team was the Atlanta Braves. Back in the day I had like 14 different favorite players. They had Javy Lopez and I used to love watching him catch. Also Chipper Jones and guys like that."
When was the moment you realized you could become a pro baseball player?
"I would probably say high school. The whole draft process started, and it kind of snuck up on me quick. I went to the Perfect Game showcases and whatever else and then I realized I had the opportunity to play professional baseball and sign as an 18-year old. I elected to go to college and I feel like it's the best decision I've ever made. I don't really know what's going to happen here in the next couple of weeks. We still have some baseball to play so I'm trying to keep my focus on that."
You have a lot of family connections to Clemson, with your mom being a cheerleader and your grandfather being a major booster. I assume you've wanted to go there since you were little?
"Oh, no doubt. My family grew up Clemson fans and even as a young kid I grew up wearing Clemson shirts. Playing whiffleball in the backyard we would always wear Clemson shirts and keep up with them. I knew that if I had the opportunity to Clemson, I would take full advantage of it."
Is it hard being a baseball player at such a football-focused school? Especially this year, when the team made it to the National Championship Game?
"They definitely deserve all the attention they get. They had an incredible year. They work day in and day out, along with the rest of the athletics we have here. We all support each other and they deserve the respect they get, along with the other sports. I think they have some respect for us and what we do. We back each other up. It is kind of hard... the hardest part for us is trying to walk to class with a football player and trying to have a conversation with them. They keep getting stopped by students."
You were drafted in the 31st round by the Padres three years ago. Did you really consider that possibility at all, or was your heart really set on being a Tiger?
"When it got to that point [the 31st round], I knew in my mind I was going to be a Clemson Tiger. When they drafted me, I was very thankful for the opportunity and it was pretty cool being drafted for the first time but I knew right then and there that I was going to go to school."
Since you've been at Clemson, you've improved every year and have become a complete player and a leader on the team. What do you attribute your improvement to?
"Picking brains from other players and I've been really blessed to have two really good head coaches. Of course with Coach [Jack] Leggett and then Coach [Monte] Lee coming in this year with the stuff that he brought. Even the staff I had the two previous years, they've always been there for me. I've always tried to pick their minds and I've been fortunate enough to play with some very good players throughout my college career. Picking the brains of other people and really focusing on what I need to get better at, it's been fun when you get to work with the type of guys who are in this program day in and day out. We all put in a lot of work and have a lot of fun with it. It's easy to improve your game when you have fantastic teammates like I do.
The top three catchers in this year's draft are all ACC guys (you, Miami's Zack Collins and Matt Thaiss (Virginia). What is it like going head-to-head against the best catchers in all of college baseball?
"The ACC has always been up there competition-wise. We have to go play those guys in the ACC Tournament, and through the regular season. It does make you better, and I'm sure those guys [Thaiss and Collins] would say the same thing. Those guys are incredible players and fun to watch. Sometimes, you have to take in watching them do their thing against you. It's always fun to go up against those guys; they're two incredible dudes and incredible catchers. There's no doubt in my mind that they're going super successful at the next level. It's fun pulling for each other and knowing we may get to play each other in the Regionals or Super Regionals in the next few weeks. It's fun seeing them being successful in what they do."
As a player, what's your biggest strength?
"For me, it wouldn't be anything physical. It would be my leadership, my attitude toward the game and my work ethic. It's something I've always kind of fallen back on. You can always go in a slump and you can always have a bad game, but there's no excuse for not working hard. That's something I always try to lay back on, to keep working it out and be the best player I can possibly be."
And your biggest weakness? What have scouts said you should work on?
"The thing with the scouts is that each guy has his own different opinion. If you look too far into that, you get away from the type of player that you are. There are some adjustments I need to make if I get to the pro level. One would being more of a steady blocker, and maybe using the whole field more [as a hitter]. There are some things that during the game, you can't really think about. If it gets to that point, I'll work everyday on my weaknesses during practice but I also appreciate my strengths. I'll just go with the flow and whatever I feel like I need to work at on a certain day, I'll do that day. As a player, I'm definitely not satisfied with what I have. I look forward to getting better each and every day and being the best player I can possibly be."
Who, would you say, is the most comparable major-leaguer (past or present) to you and your game?
"I love watching Russell Martin catch. Jason Kendall was really fun to watch catch. Those two guys really stick out to me when it comes to catchers."
A lot of guys get moved from the behind the plate when they get to the pros. Is catcher where you want to be at the next level? Where do you expect to play?
"I would love to stay at catcher. Whatever it takes to get to the next level, I would definitely make an adjustment. If they feel like I need to make an adjustment and go somewhere else, I would love to do that. But I can definitely see myself as a catcher and staying there as long as possible. That's the position I love. Heck, I'd pitch if it got me to the big leagues. Whatever it takes."
Scouting reports praise your intangibles, your leadership and your baseball IQ? What has led to having those intangibles and being a leader behind the plate?
"It's a lot of your teammates and the people who mentor you when you're still young. Garrett Boulware [now a Reds minor-leaguer] was here before I was, and he's a big reason. You have to talk baseball, and talk baseball with baseball nuts. I love the game, I love watching it on TV. I love anything in my Twitter feed that is about baseball. It comes from watching how other people handle things, asking them questions and picking people's minds. It's about understanding you need to keep learning things each and every day."
Do you have any expectations for where you'll be picked? Any teams with stronger interest than others?
"I don't really have any expectations. I'm going to be appreciative of the team who takes a chance on me. If it happens, it does. If it doesn't, I have no fear of coming back for senior year and being at the greatest university. I don't really have expectations going into this, I'm just going to have fun with it. Whatever happens, happens. If a team does happen to take a chance on me, I would love to make the best of that opportunity and work hard for them. Until then, I'm focused on Regionals and Super Regionals trying to get the job done with my teammates."