Previewing the 2024 Desert Invitational

February 15th, 2024

As professional pitchers, catchers and early-reporting position players arrive across the valley in Arizona, collegians get to take center stage and serve as the official opening of the 2024 baseball calendar during a jam-packed weekend.

The Desert Invitational begins play Friday afternoon and will run through Monday, with nearly all of the games either streamed on or shown live on MLB Network. For the first time, the field will expand to eight teams, all of which are looking to start the 2024 campaign off on the right foot and make their mark on a national stage.

The schedule (all times ET) for the event is as follows (dates, times and participants are subject to change):

Feb. 16, 3 p.m.: Boston College vs. Ohio State (Salt River Fields)+
Feb. 16, 7 p.m.: BYU vs. USC (Sloan Park)+
Feb. 16, 8 p.m.: Georgetown vs. Grand Canyon (Brazell Field at GCU)
Feb. 16, 8 p.m.: Kansas State vs. Cal (Salt River Fields)+
Feb. 17, 2 p.m.: Kansas State vs. Boston College (Sloan Park)+
Feb. 17, 3 p.m.: Cal vs. Georgetown (Salt River Fields)+
Feb. 17, 7 p.m.: Ohio State vs. BYU (Sloan Park)+
Feb. 17, 8 p.m.: Grand Canyon vs. USC (Salt River Fields)+
Feb. 18, 2 p.m.: Georgetown vs. Kansas State (Sloan Park)+
Feb. 18, 5 p.m.: Boston College vs. Cal (Salt River Fields)+
Feb. 18, 7 p.m.: USC vs. Ohio State (Sloan Park)+
Feb. 19, 3 p.m.: BYU vs. Grand Canyon (Sloan Park)+
+ = stream
Bolded games = live on MLB Network AND stream

Now in its fifth iteration, the Desert Invitational (formerly known as “MLB4”) welcomes a fresh-look group for 2024. Cal and Grand Canyon are the only schools to have previously played in one of the premier collegiate showcases, with the latter getting to host a contest on its home diamond in front of what is expected to be a raucous crowd reminiscent of the one last year vs. Tennessee.

“We had a great experience when we went last time,” said Cal head coach Mike Neu. “It’s great venues, great competition. Major League Baseball and Chuck [Fox, director of baseball and softball development] do a great job of putting on the tournament.”

The sentiment of high-level competition and increased visibility on a national scale for all of the programs involved was echoed by seven of the head coaches during a media call Tuesday morning.

“It’s the third time I’ve been there, so that shows you how much I love this tournament and appreciate it,” said Ohio State head coach Bill Mosiello, who previously appeared twice with TCU. “As soon as I took this job, I made a call to Chuck immediately and said, ‘Hey, do you guys have any spots open for the first year I can get out there?’”

In addition to boasting programs with national relevance, the Desert Invitational will feature five players currently ranked among MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Draft prospects. Those players are listed below:

No. 21: Caleb Lomavita, C – Cal
No. 28: Kaelen Culpepper, SS – Kansas State
No. 64: Austin Overn, OF – USC
No. 69: Tyson Neighbors, RHP – Kansas State
No. 96: Rodney Green Jr., OF -- Cal

The majority of games will take place at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (Spring Training home to the Rockies and D-backs) and Sloan Park (home to the Cubs). The stage offers players the opportunity to compete on diamonds that they one day hope to call home upon reaching the professional ranks. As recently as last year’s event, Chase Davis (Arizona) and Homer Bush Jr. (Grand Canyon) went on to parlay their successes into becoming early selections in the 2023 Draft with the Cardinals and Padres, respectively.

“Being through it once will prepare us better for the bigger ballparks that we play at,” said Grand Canyon head coach Gregg Wallis. “To get our guys in a Major League facility -- a big ballpark -- is just a great experience.”

Six players participating in the tournament are alumni of the annual Hank Aaron Invitational, while more than 40 players have previously suited up in the Appy League, a wooden-bat collegiate baseball summer league spearheaded by MLB. The exposure provided by the event has been a boon in recruiting for many programs in the past, as competition has been rife in securing a spot in the annual proceedings.

“It hit us throughout the course of this last weekend that our guys are really just ready to see another team and another opponent,” said Boston College head coach Todd Interdonato. “We’re ready for things to get a little hairy and uncomfortable, which is why we all do this.

“The competition, the venue, the weather, all of it -- you just can’t do anything better than what we’re signed up to do.”

Fans can purchase tickets for the weekend extravaganza at Children aged 12 years or younger will receive free admission.