Previewing this weekend's MLB Desert Invitational

February 16th, 2023

While excitement has begun to percolate across the baseball landscape with the sweet sounds of pitchers and catchers reporting, Arizona will be getting into game mode as soon as Friday afternoon when the MLB Desert Invitational gets underway. 

The 2023 college baseball season kicks off all across the country Friday, while the greater Phoenix area will feature 13 contests over a four-day span. Twelve of those games will be streamed live on, while three contests will also take place live on the MLB Network.

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

Feb. 17, 2 p.m.: Michigan vs. Fresno State (Sloan Park)*
Feb. 17, 3 p.m.: Grand Canyon vs. UC San Diego (Salt River Fields)
Feb. 17, 6 p.m.: Michigan vs. Michigan State (Sloan Park)*
Feb. 17, 8 p.m.: Tennessee vs. Arizona (Salt River Fields)
Feb. 18, 3 p.m.: UC San Diego vs. Michigan (Salt River Fields)*
Feb. 18, 3 p.m.: Fresno State vs. Arizona (Sloan Park)*
Feb. 18, 8 p.m.: Tennessee vs. Grand Canyon (Brazell Field)
Feb. 19, 2 p.m.: UC San Diego vs. Tennessee (Sloan Park)*
Feb. 19, 3 p.m.: Michigan State vs. Fresno State (Salt River Fields)*
Feb. 19, 7 p.m.: Grand Canyon vs. Michigan (Sloan Park)*
Feb. 19, 8 p.m.: Arizona vs. Michigan State (Salt River Fields)*
Feb. 20, 1 p.m.: Michigan State vs. Grand Canyon (Brazell Field)
Feb. 20, 3 p.m.: Arizona vs. UC San Diego (Sloan Park)*
* = stream
Bolded games = live on MLB Network AND stream

Formerly known as MLB4, the MLB-led tournament is putting the competition pedal to the floor out of the gate in its fourth instance. Coming off a school-record 56 wins last year, the University of Tennessee headlines a field that is set to include local stalwarts Grand Canyon University and the University of Arizona; the University of Michigan and Michigan State University from the Big Ten Conference; and a pair of California clubs in Fresno State University and UC San Diego.

“The opportunity to play in a tournament like this against the programs and coaches that we’re able to compete against is exciting for our players,” Fresno State interim head coach Ryan Overland said. “And to do it under a tournament with the MLB logo, I mean, every kid grows up wanting to play in the big leagues and that’s what they’re working every day for.”

Five of the participating head coaches met with the media via a Zoom call Wednesday morning to express their excitement level in getting the season underway in a unique fashion.

Beyond the resumes of the schools included, the individual talent crop on hand in Arizona is impressive as seven of the Top 100 Draft prospects per MLB Pipeline are scheduled to participate. Those players are listed below:

No. 2: Chase Dollander, RHP -- Tennessee
No. 9: Jacob Wilson, SS -- Grand Canyon
No. 22: Maui Ahuna, SS -- Tennessee
No. 44: Mitch Jebb, SS -- Michigan State
No. 51: Chase Davis, OF -- Arizona
No. 69: T.J. Nichols, RHP -- Arizona
No. 88: Homer Bush Jr., OF -- Grand Canyon

Over the course of four days, all clubs involved will receive national exposure through the league's streaming services, as well as on-hand visibility via scouts flocking to the desert to get their eyes on a collection of skilled players concentrated in one area.

“Our hope is to build the biggest and best opening weekend tournament in college baseball,” MLB’s director of baseball and softball development Chuck Fox said. “We’re going to be playing games at, I feel are two of the best [venues] in all of professional baseball in Salt River Fields at Talking Stick and Sloan Park – they’re great partners for us.”

“Playing in those ballparks with the new bases, they’ll get to see what it’s like at the next level,” former big league manager and current University of Arizona head coach Chip Hale said of his players. “It’s a huge deal wherever you start the season and I’m glad we get to do a tournament. I’m glad it’s sponsored by MLB because this is where everybody we recruit, we feel like they should shoot for."

Between the seven schools scheduled to appear in this weekend’s MLB Desert Invitational, 21 players had their name called during the 2022 MLB Draft last July. Combined, the group has garnered 36 trips to Omaha, Neb., and collected seven national championships.

While most games will take place at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (spring home to the Rockies and D-backs) or Sloan Park (spring home to the Cubs), Grand Canyon’s Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark will also host a pair of contests, with Saturday night’s marquee matchup vs. Tennessee streaming live on MLB Network.

“It’s a huge thing for our school and our program to be able to showcase our facilities on national television,” Grand Canyon head coach Greg Wallis said. “With all the great teams in the tournament, the exposure that we’re going to get from the professional scouting community with Spring Training ramping up, I think it’s just going to be a really fun night.”

“I’m excited about Saturday, where I think we’re going to give the baseball community a chance to see one of the most exciting atmospheres in all of college baseball out of Grand Canyon,” Fox said. “We’re excited, looking forward to it -- baseball is in the air.”

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