Arizona only had two players selected in the 2022 MLB Draft. It doubled that tally on Monday alone.
Four members of this past season’s Wildcats squad had their names called during the second day of the draft, and each stands to get a six-figure bonus to sign with the teams who picked them.
Right-handed pitcher TJ Nichols is headed to the Tampa Bay Rays after he went in the 7th round (183rd pick) on Monday, while first baseman Kiko Romero was taken in the 8th round (222nd) by the New York Yankees. The 10th round say righty reliever Chris Barraza go 294th to the Los Angeles Angels and shortstop Nik McClaughry 311th to the San Diego Padres.
Nichols’ pick comes with a bonus slot value of $307,300, Romero’s is worth $224,700, Barraza’s $169,000 and McClaughry’s 164,400. Teams can go above or below that as long as they stay within their allowed draft bonus pool.
Nichols was Arizona’s opening night starter when the Wildcats beat preseason No. 2 Tennessee in February. He allowed one run over 6.1 innings and looked primed for a junior year that would keep his draft stock rising. But by the end of March he was out of the starting rotation, relegated to a mop-up relief role due to control issues.
He walked 29 batters and hit 17 more in 57.2 innings in 2023, finishing with a 3-5 record and an 8.27 ERA. Nichols also struck out 52, and in three seasons at Arizona fanned 202 in 206.1 innings.
At the MLB Draft Combine last month in Phoenix, Nichols regularly threw in the mid- to upper 90s, and Tampa must have liked what it saw. The Rays have a reputation for developing pitchers, so this could be the perfect place for Nichols to get back on track.
At the @MLBDraft Combine today, TJ Nichols was up to 97, showcasing plus run on the heater— 6–4–3 Charts (@643charts) June 22, 2023
He also has a good feel for the slider, which generated a 36% whiff rate this year in his time with @ArizonaBaseball pic.twitter.com/Dr7Iiw6Sn9
He is the fourth UA player to be drafted by the Rays, the first since infielder Johnny Field in 2013.
Romero, a JUCO transfer from Central Arizona, he parlayed his one massive season at Arizona into a nice payout for a fourth-year college player. The first baseman hit .345 with 21 home runs (tying first-round pick Chase Davis for the team lead) and a school-record 89 RBI.
UA coaches were worried Romero would never play for them after he was named NJCAA College World Series MVP at Central, but he went undrafted.
From Oro Valley, Romero is the 10th Wildcat picked by the Yankees, the first since catcher Austin Wells went in the first round in 2020. They’ll be getting a left-handed hitting slugger who was part of many of Arizona’s biggest moments this past season, including an inside-the-park home run against Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament final and the walkoff hit to beat Oregon State in pool play.
Kiko Romero's walkoff hit to send Arizona to the Pac-12 semifinals pic.twitter.com/BdysAe8LdK— Brian Pedersen (@realBJP) May 24, 2023
Barraza spent the past two seasons with the UA after beginning his career at New Mexico State. A Sahuarita native, he was 5-2 with a 6.52 ERA and one save in 25 appearances in 2023, striking out 39 batters in 29 innings.
The last Wildcat drafted by the Angels was righty Chase Silseth, who went from being the UA’s starter in the first game of the 2021 College World Series to making his MLB debut less than a year later. Barraza is the 14th UA player to get picked by that franchise.
McClaughry, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2023, committed only five errors all spring and had just 17 miscues in 177 career games with Arizona. He also hit .299 with 165 runs scored, batting .325 with 21 extra-base hits and 39 RBI as a senior.
The last UA player drafted by the Padres, who have taken 12 Wildcats, was catcher Nick Hundley in 2005.
Arizona’s draft tally (both current and incoming players) after two days (and 10 rounds) is six, the others being Davis (21st overall to the St. Louis Cardinals) and signee Blake Wolters (2nd round, 44th overall to the Kansas City Royals).
Others who could get picked Tuesday, during rounds 11-20, include outfielder Mac Bingham, third baseman Tony Bullard, lefty Bradon Zastrow, righties Trevor Long and Dawson Netz, outfielder Emilio Corona and incoming freshman OF Easton Breyfogle.
Day 3 draftees can sign for up to $150,000 before it counts toward a team’s bonus pool. That was the case in 2021 when 11th-round pick Silseth got $485,000.