By Matt Leon

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — St. Joseph’s University has had an embarrassment of riches at the catcher position the last several years.

Deon Stafford Jr. enjoyed a great three-year run on Hawk Hill that culminated in June when he was drafted in the 5th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Prior to Stafford, Brian O’Keefe was the rock behind the plate.

O’Keefe also had a three-year run of success at St. Joe’s and that led to him being drafted in the 7th round back in 2014 by the St. Louis Cardinals. Since then he has been climbing the ladder in the Cardinals organization. He has spent the 2017 season with the Single-A Peoria Chiefs.

Brian O'Keefe Cardinals

St. Joe’s product Brian O’Keefe is hitting .246 this season for Single-A Peoria with nine home runs. (Credit – Allison Rhoades/Peoria Chiefs)

“2017 has been an interesting year,” O’Keefe tells KYW Newsradio. “I’ve put up some decent numbers offensively, not exactly what I want them to be. But that happens and I still have another 150 at bats or so to put up those numbers, but I think I’m doing alright. There’s always going to be room for improvement and I think, from the offensive standpoint, at the end of the year I’ll be exactly where I want to be.”

So far in 2017, O’Keefe is batting .246 in 67 games with nine home runs and 29 RBI. Of course, defense is a critical part of the game for any catcher and it is there that O’Keefe has really shined this season.

“I think this has probably been the best year I’ve ever had defensively,” O’Keefe says. “Whether it’s receiving the baseball, blocking, calling the game, throwing, I think defensively I’ve been really, really happy with where I’m at.”

O’Keefe has committed just one error behind the plate this season and he has thrown out 32% of the runners attempting to steal against him.

He says his work behind the plate was a priority for him this past off-season.

“The main thing was receiving,” O’Keefe says. “I worked every day this off-season, whether it was off the machines, whether it was live bullpens, whatever it may be, receiving baseball after baseball after baseball after baseball and I think it’s really paid off.”

O’Keefe put up great numbers during his time at St. Joe’s, he is 15th on the program’s all-time hit list, and he says a lot of people helped contribute to his success.

“When I was there on Hawk Hill,” O’Keefe says, “whether it was (head coach) Fritz (Hamburg) or (Assistant) Coach (Matt) Allison or whoever it was, they helped mold me into the player I was. And I really think that they gave me an opportunity to continue my career and they pushed me to see how good I could really be.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without that program, that’s for sure.”

O’Keefe and the Chiefs host Lake County on Thursday night.

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