Coming off yet another middling season for the Pac-12, one that included no College World Series wins in Omaha, the 2023 Major League Baseball Draft — which begins on Sunday — is shaping up to be a bit of a mixed bag.

The league will likely end up with a pair of 1st round picks, but gone are the days of 2020, when Arizona State’s Spencer Torkelson was drafted 1st overall by the Detroit Tigers and two other players (UCLA’s Garrett Mitchell and Arizona’s Austin Wells) went in the 1st round, or 2019, when Oregon State’s Adley Rutschman went No. 1, Cal’s Andrew Vaughn went 3rd and Arizona State’s Hunter Bishop went 10th.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that a conference that has just won CWS game since 2018 — Stanford’s 2021 win over fellow Pac-12 power Arizona — would not exactly be brimming with 1st-round talent.

But, of course, just as games do not end after one inning, the draft does not end after the 1st round, providing hope to more a dozen Pac-12 players.

Here’s a look at our 2023 Pac-12 MLB Draft preview…

Cardinal losses

Omaha-bound for a 3rd-straight year, Stanford was once again the toast of the conference.

But now, with as many as 8 or 9 2023 picks waiting to hear their names called, the Cardinal reign may come to an end.

Of course, several of the following retain at least a year of college eligibility…

  • IF Tommy Troy
  • OF/C Alberto Rios
  • P Quinn Mathews
  • OF Eddie Park
  • IF Carter Graham
  • P Ryan Bruno
  • P Drew Dowd
  • IF Drew Bowser

…but the loss more than half would pose a challenge for David Esquer.

Those top 3 names in particular, though? Yikes.

We’re talking about the league’s best hitter, it’s player of the year and its pitcher of the year.

A probable mid-1st-rounder, Troy batted .394, scored a team-high 76 runs, had 17 home runs and 58 RBIs and slugged .699. If Troy is drafted in the 1st round, he’d be the first Stanford player since both Nico Hoerner (Chicago Cubs, 24th overall) and Kris Bubic (Royals, 40th) in 2018. He is also vying to become the team’s highest-drafted position player since catcher Jason Castro went 10th to the Houston Astros in 2008.

After batting .339 as a sophomore, Troy was a known quantity; Pac-12 POY Rios, on the other hand, came from absolutely nowhere to bat .384 with 18 home runs, 73 RBIs a .485 on-base percentage and a .707 slugging percentage. Rios is hoping to go in the top 4 rounds, along with Mathews, one of the most dominant pitchers in college baseball. Mathews fanned 158 batters to lead the conference by a wide margin, finishing with a league-best 10-4 record and a 3.75 ERA.

Dowd (9-3 despite just 3 starts, with a 4.52 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings, and Bruno (9 saves, 5.29 ERA, 56 strikeouts in 34 innings) are attractive relievers who are pegged for the middle rounds.

Park was effective as the team’s every-day leadoff hitter, batting .333 with 68 runs scored, while Graham thrived in the 3-hole, batting .315 ith 15 home runs, 22 doubles and a team-high 77 RBIs. Bowser battd .270 with 14 home runs and 48 RBIs, but he really came alive in the Super Regionals win over Texas, driving in 6 runs. They are all likely mid-round picks, as well.

If the majority of those players bounce for the bigs, a new conference champ could be crowned.

Arizona’s power crunch

Chase Davis had a smashing 2022 campaign for the Wildcats in Chip Hale’s 1st season at the helm, tying for 3rd in the conference with 18 home runs while batting .289 with 54 RBIs. He led the team in runs, home runs, and walks, but he also had some brutal advanced stats.

A year later, after batting .362 with a Pac-12 best 21 homers and 74 RBIs, he is in the 1st round conversation. His .742 slugging percentage put him in rarified air nationally, but perhaps more importantly for pro scouts, his advanced numbers took a big jump, as illustrated in this terrific passage from Prospect Live’s Tyler Paddor.

“Last year, Davis ran a 31% whiff rate—on the much higher end of the spectrum before overall production becomes hard to sustain. His zone whiff rate was 22%, also much higher than average for quality draft prospects.

“This year his overall whiff rate dropped to 20% and his zone whiff rate was halved to 11%. Subsequently, his strikeout rate dropped from 22.8% to 14%. These contact rate improvements are shocking on a year-to-year basis and much of it has to deal with quieting the hands and creating a springier core-based load. Those contact rates are also in very positive territory where Davis can enter the pros without swing-and-miss concerns.

“Digging deeper, Davis saw his breaking ball whiff rate drop from 50% down to just 25% and his offspeed whiff rate from 38% to 19%. As a prodigious fastball hitter coming into the year, Davis narrowly improved his whiff rate against heaters from 20% to 18%.

“In terms of OPS, his overall OPS ballooned from .997 to 1.231. His OPS against fastballs jumped from 1.116 to 1.324, against offspeed from .958 to 1.510, and against breaking balls from .767 to .917.”

Davis isn’t the only Wildcat masher to likely head to the majors as an early-round pick.

IF/OF Kiko Romero made the most of his lone season in Tucson, as the former JuCo star batted .345, tied Davis for the league lead with 21 homers and led the conference by a large margin in 89 RBIs. He was a 2nd-team All-American by multiple publications and a Dick Howser Trophy semifinalist.

UCLA-ches and pains

This draft has got to sting for John Savage.

After an injury-marred stretch the last 2 years, just about all of the Bruins’ pro prospects — infielder Kyle Karros, and pitchers Alonzo Tredwell, Charles Harrison and Ethan Flanagan — were dinged up at some point, if not worse.

Savage has to feel like he didn’t quite get enough out of them, particularly in 2023, a brutal year for the Bruins.

Of the four, Tredwell has the best pro potential, particularly based off his stellar freshman year, though Karros has some impressive professional lineage, as his father Eric — a former star UCLA player himself — had a long, successful MLB career.

Pac-12 Top 10 MLB Draft Prospects

1) Stanford IF Tommy Troy

2) Arizona OF Chase Davis

3) Washington RHP Kiefer Lord

4) Arizona State IF Luke Keaschall

5) UCLA RHP Alonzo Tredwell

6) Stanford RHP Quinn Mathews

6) Arizona RHP T.J. Nichols

7) UCLA IF Kyle Karros

8) Oregon IF Sabin Ceballos

9) Oregon State IF Garret Forrester

10) Arizona 1B Kiko Romero

Husky’s arms race-ing for the exits

Along with UCLA, Washington will likely be looking at a retooled rotation with the losses of some prime Pac-12 pitchers.

Kiefer Lord, who went 6-5 with 9.28 strikeouts per 9 innings in 15 innings, is projected to be picked in the first few rounds. Fellow starter Stu Flesland III ranked 2nd in the league in starts and innings pitched, 6th with a 4.12 ERA and 9th in strikeouts 81 and just 27 walks, and he’s pegged to go in the mid-to-late rounds.

If both of them turn pro, as well as talented reliever Case Matter, Jason Kelly will have to find some new big arms.

Sun Devils surge

Despite missing the NCAA Tournament for the 2nd straight year, Arizona State could finish with three picks in the top 4 rounds.

Middle infielder Luke Keaschall projects as one of the top 2nd basemen in the draft and could go near the top of the 2nd round. Keaschall was a star transfer from San Francisco as the West Coast Conference freshman of the year in 2021, but he really wielded a big bat in his only season in Tempe, hitting .353 with 18 home runs, 25 doubles, 58 RBIs and 18 stolen bases while also playing fantastic defense.

He’ll likely be joined early in the draft by a pair of pitchers in lefty Ross Dunn and righty Khristian Curtis. Dunn had a much better 2023 season, sporting a 4.27 ERA with 84 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings, although his 4-6 record was unimpressive. Curtis went 4-3 but had a 7.03 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 64 innings. Both are projected to be drafted near each other.

Top-5 Draft Sleepers

1) Oregon OF Rikuu Nishida

2) Oregon State OF Garret Forrester

3) Washington P Stu Flesland III

4) Cal P Paulshawn Pasqualotto

5) Oregon P Jace Stoffal