Chris Okey makes major league debut for Cincinnati Reds

ST. LOUIS — On April 5, 2019, Cincinnati Reds catch prospect Chris Okey made his Triple-A debut with the Louisville Bats.

Okey was the Reds’ second-round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft after starting out at Clemson, and it took him just three years to reach Triple-A. In that April 5 game, Phil Ervin, Aristides Aquino and Brian O’Grady took to the field for the Bats. Lucas Sims was the starting pitcher and pitched three innings.

These players all spent time in MLB over the next few years. But three years later, Okey was still in Triple-A.

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Okey was sitting in the Bats clubhouse on Thursday when manager Pat Kelly told him he was finally going to the big leagues. On Friday, Okey made his MLB debut after entering the game in the eighth inning, and he was part of the Reds’ starting lineup on Saturday.

“It’s definitely a tough grind,” Okey said. “It’s harder for others and easier for others. Some guys do their thing and cut to the chase. For some guys it takes a little longer. The end goal is always the same. It’s definitely an honor to be here.

Okey was in the same draft class as Nick Senzel, Taylor Trammell, Ryan Hendrix and Joel Kuhnel. In 2019, Okey hit .209 at the underage level. After the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic, Okey hit .237 with 13 more total hits as the Bats backup behind Beau Taylor.

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For most of the 2022 season, Okey could have been considered the Bats’ third-largest receiver behind 10-year MLB veteran Sandy Leon and prospect Mark Kolozsvary. But then Okey started hitting at his career best.

“People in our organization are delighted for (Okey) because it just hasn’t been easy,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He deserved every moment of this chance to be here.”

Cincinnati Reds wide receiver Chris Okey (72) hits a home run during a spring training game against the San Francisco Giants, Sunday, March 20, 2022, at Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, Arizona.

Okey didn’t make a swing change and he attributed his success to maintaining the approach he believed in. Of the Bats’ three catchers, Okey was the leading hitter this season with a career-best .265 batting average. He hit for the cycle last week and has been increasing his power numbers throughout the season.

“I’m more consistent with everything, and I expand everything you can around it,” Okey said. “I trust myself more. I don’t walk away from it when things go wrong.

With the Reds, Okey will back Aramis Garcia and start every few days. Starting receiver Tyler Stephenson is out for four to six weeks with a broken right thumb, so the Reds had to call a receiver.

Bell said his first question to the Reds’ player development staff was about how Okey handles the Reds’ minor league pitchers. Okey has already caught Hunter Greene and Graham Ashcraft which has left a strong positive impression.

“He’s just a great guy in general, and he’s got an amazing sense of humor and the ability to always make the guys in the clubhouse laugh,” Ashcraft said. “That’s on top of being able to call a really good game and being really good defensively.”

Cincinnati Reds wide receiver Chris Okey (72) hits a home run during a spring training game against the San Francisco Giants, Sunday, March 20, 2022, at Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, Arizona.

INJURY UPDATES: Reds designated hitter Mike Moustakas has been on COVID IL since June 6 while battling an illness, and Bell said Moustakas could return Monday when the Reds start the series in Arizona.

Utility player Max Schrock was scheduled to play nine innings Saturday night with the Bats, and there’s a chance his next move will be to the Reds’ active roster. He missed the first two months of the season with a calf injury.

“He could be a couple, days away from joining our team,” Bell said. “It’s always one day at a time to make sure he’s ready.”

THEY ARE BACK: Reds center fielder Nick Senzel (back) and right fielder Albert Almora Jr. (shoulder) missed Friday’s game with injury, but returned to the lineup on Saturday.

With the return of two starting outfielders, the Reds took a step closer to returning their normal starting lineup to the field. As Jonathan India, Max Schrock and Donovan Solano continue their rehab missions, the Reds are close to bringing a few potential starters back into the squad.

Cincinnati Reds center fielder Nick Senzel (15) catches a fly ball during the seventh inning of the MLB game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Washington Nationals at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati on Saturday, June 4, 2022.

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