It’s not hard to figure out where Clayton Keyes wants to be in a year and he’s letting his play do the talking early on in the college baseball season.
The Calgary product burst onto the province’s baseball scene with Dawgs Academy and turned enough heads to get drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 17th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball (MLB) draft. A year later, he was taken in the 15th round by Arizona.
He’s out to prove himself again this year. Keyes tripled twice in the fourth game of the season for Central Arizona College and he has a hit in all but two games he’s played to this point. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound outfielder is once again gaining scouts’ attention and is ranked the the No. 5 draft-eligible Canuck by Canadian Baseball Network.
During a recent rainout, Keyes took some time for a chat for a recent edition of Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast and here’s that discussion.
Q: It’s shaping up to be a pretty good year for yourself already with a hot start right off the bat. Talk about your mindset going into this season. Are you looking to impress again at the MLB level or are you trying to just impress at the college level? Where’s your head at going into 2019?
A: Basically for me, coming into this year, I mean as a kid I’ve always wanted to play pro ball. Out of high school I wanted to play pro ball. So I think this year, there’s really no difference. I want to do well and get into pro ball as soon as I can.
Q: Talk a little bit about the last few years. I don’t know if you could call it a roller-coaster ride but you have been drafted a couple of times and you have had those opportunities and things just didn’t pan out. So how do you learn from those things and use them to your advantage?
A: I think just knowing what pro guys look for. Since I’ve already gone through the process a couple of times, I know exactly what the guys are looking for, what they need, what each scout is out there looking for in their guys. So I kind of use that to my advantage and try to play to my skill set and yeah, basically just go out there and be me.
Q: I’ve chatted with a few people in the baseball circles who have said that the difference between Clayton Keyes from about three or four years ago and today is night and day. What’s changed in your eyes in terms of your maturation and becoming the man you have become?
A: I think for me the biggest thing was last year, coming out of high school into college. I think it was humbling for me, basically, to be on the bench I guess. And I’ve kind of used that as fuel to kind of open up some eyes and tell people what is really the deal with me. So yeah, I kind of used last year as a good push or motivation for me to do better this year and open up more eyes.
— ORLI (@ORLI36315379) February 2, 2019
Q: Give us a little bit of background on where you came from. Not just being a Calgary kid but you have quite the sporting past with your family and everything else.
A: Basically as a kid I just wanted to be active. I wanted to play as many sports as a kid and I did that. I played a little bit of hockey, played some basketball, played football. Yeah, I basically just wanted to be as athletic and physically in shape as possible and that meant playing in all the sports you can. It gives you that opportunity and I just use that now going forward.
Q: How big of an impact, inspiration and motivation has your family been in all of this. Like I said, given that you do have quite the family lineage to athletics.
A: Oh man, they have been great. My parents are unbelievable supporters of me and my sister. My sister, yeah, she’s been great. I mean, my whole family is just, it’s unbelievable how supportive they have been through everything, including the ups and downs. It’s crazy, you know. It’s really special.
Q: Talk a little bit about your upbringing through Dawgs Academy and the process of becoming the ball player you’ve become through that program.
A: Oh man, there are no better coaches than those guys out there, I think. They are there every day at six in the morning until whenever, basically helping kids get better and knowing what each person needs individually. That level of coaching out there is incomparable. They’re just great guys and they know basically everything.
Q: What’s your biggest motivator going into this year?
A: Hmmm. That’s a tough one. The biggest motivator I’d say is probably just, since I’ve always wanted to play professional baseball, it’s always been my main goal. I think just knowing that there is still an opportunity out there, that’s enough to push me.
Q: How difficult is it to come from somewhere like Alberta and Canada, where it’s not a major hotbed for baseball to playing in a state where a lot of baseball players are coming from, being Arizona? What did you have to do to turn some heads and, beyond that, gain a little respect for being “the Canadian” on the team?
A: I mean, there’s not really a lot of that. I think that firstly, it was the exposure that I got with the Dawgs Academy. I mean, they travel all over the country and all over the States, going to different tournaments, getting guys looks from pro guys and college guys. You name it. So I think that was a big first step in that. And then coming down here, I think just being me. Just playing the game that I know, that I’ve always loved and played as a kid. I think just knowing my game and playing into that game, playing to my strengths, so I think that made it that much easier.
Q: You’re still a young guy but you’ve already had quite the adventure in baseball and I’m curious. What is your number one memory or number one moment that you have had so far? One that made you go “I can’t believe I’m here right now”?
A: That’s tough. I’ve had a lot of good memories playing baseball. I think probably the Baseball Canada trip where we played against the Toronto Blue Jays. It was televised and all that. It was pretty crazy with all the pre-game stuff and having cameras in your face, all the interviews. It basically felt like I was playing in a major league game. So that was pretty special to me.
— Jason Willow (@jaywillow7) January 7, 2018
Q: What does it mean to be on lists like Canadian Baseball Network’s list of top draft-eligible guys again, and how much do you keep that in the back of your mind?
A: I don’t pay attention to the lists, the rankings, all that kind of stuff. I don’t even really look at stats to be honest with you. I feel like that, let’s say you’re ranked first on the list or whatever, it just puts that much more pressure on a kid, you know? So when stuff like that comes out, I try not to look at them. I just go out there and play my game and know that if I do, I’ll be alright.
Q: Do you have a team in mind that you would love to play pro ball with at some point down the line?
A: I’m not too sure. I mean, the Toronto Blue Jays would be pretty special and playing in Canada. But honestly, any team that’s willing to make that call for me, I feel like I’d love to put on that uniform.
— ORLI (@ORLI36315379) September 29, 2018
Q: The only reason I ask is I wanted to tap a little deeper and see what team you grew up watching or what player you tried to emulate when you were younger.
A: I didn’t really watch one specific player. More recently, probably over the last six or seven years, I’ve been watching Bryce Harper. He’s been my favourite player for a while but I try to take bits and pieces from different players. One main guy is Khris Davis of the Oakland Athletics. I think he and I have similar body types and stuff like that so I feel like me emulating his game works for me.
Q: Final question for you, Clayton. If you could bring out your crystal ball and look ahead to the end of this year already. How will you define success for yourself by the end of this season?
A: For me, I think having a successful season will be probably signing a pro contract at the end of the year.