Claremore grad is one of the top catching prospects in the nation
Brent Payne remembers when Matt Whatley was a freshman on his Claremore baseball team. He knew Whatley was going to be special.
Now, Whatley is a junior catcher at Oral Roberts University, and is projected to be selected in the first three rounds of the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft.
He’s grown up a lot since that freshman season with Coach Payne.
“He’s was so competitive and would become so frustrated with failure,” Payne said. “He was awful bad about throwing temper tantrums. But his competitiveness is what makes him special.”
That competitiveness is why MLB scouts are drooling over Whatley, who is now draft eligible after spending three seasons in college. His ORU team is currently in a three-game series with Western Illinois before the Summit League Tournament begins May 24.
ORU is 37-14 and has clinched the conference with a 23-4 record as of Wednesday.
Different scouting websites have Whatley going pretty high in the draft. Draftsite.com has Whatley going in the third round to the Philadelphia Phillies with the 83rd pick.
Another site, baseballdraftreport.com, has Whatley as the nation’s No. 1 catching prospect. According to the site, Whatley is “a catcher with outrageous athleticism, legit plus speed (for now), well above-average defensive tools (including an easy above-average arm), and real deal above-average power...is pretty much the dream at the position.”
High praise from the national experts.
Payne said he had heard Whatley was the No. 1-rated defensive catcher in the nation. Payne has high praise for him as well.
“He was a four-year starter,” Payne said. “He was awfully, awfully, awfully good. He had a real good career. He was special. When he came into the program, you knew he had those special skills. He was the first one at practice and the last one to leave. He loved baseball and he also worked at it.”
Whatley led the Zebras to runner-up finishes as a high school sophomore and junior, and as a senior, the Zebras made it to the state semifinals. He was the Green Country Player of the Year as a senior hitting .404. He was also an all-stater and a Tulsa World all-state selection.
For his career in high school, he hit .392 with 114 RBIs. That got the attention of ORU.
“ORU was the only Division I program to get on him,” Payne said.
And ORU got rewarded right away, as Whatley led the team with a .355 batting average. He was named the Summit League Newcomer of the Year and was named to the conference’s first team. He was also a Freshman All-America pick.
He continued his hot streak as a sophomore, hitting .363 with eight homers, 10 doubles and three triples with a .469 on-base percentage.
This season, Whatley is hitting .294 heading into the Western Illinois series. He has nine home runs, 11 doubles, 38 walks and recently went 1-for-3 with a home run and three RBIs in an 11-7 win over Oklahoma State.
Whatley has been named as the Summit League Player of Week many times over his career. He was also recently named as a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award for the best collegiate catcher.
As his baseball career continues, Payne can see the progress he has made, and can look back at that little freshman throwing temper tantrums at Legion Park with a giggle.
“He’s made the most of it,” Payne said. “He’s just a really good kid.”