Major League Pickleball (MLP) – Draft Grades

Drafts are always fun and MLP was no different. We thought they did a good job with the format. 2 minutes between picks was solid and the format did not come across as confusing as we were concerned it might be. The player interviews were actually better than we would have thought considering how diplomatic players usually are. Hearing some of the players thoughts on who would be the next draft pick was a legitimately interesting exercise, although we could have done with the player interviews being a little bit shorter. Dave Fleming and Morgan Evans are great choices for a broadcast crew, and they were giving real thoughts on who they thought should be the next pick. The broadcasters obviously have to be somewhat diplomatic as well in terms of really disagreeing with picks, but that’s going to be the case with any draft broadcast.

Check out our mock draft

Would a draft be complete without some yahoos doing draft grades? No, it definitely would not. Here are NML’s grades for the inaugural MLP draft.

ATX Pickleballers

It was a bit of a surprise to us to see Catherine Parenteau go number 1 overall but she’s such a steady all around player that you can’t dislike the pick too much. The problem in this #1 overall spot is that when you don’t go upside with Anna Leigh Waters, you may be having some trouble with your second female at #16. Loong and Smith both went a bit high for our liking, but they should be fine as a pair.

It’s the Yana Grechkina pick that is really concerning (we did not even know she was in the player pool). Grechkina has had some nice mixed wins with Collin Johns recently, including yesterday against Jackie Kawamoto and Rob Nunnery in Texas. However, as much as we like Grechkina’s overall ceiling as a player, our view is that she’s not ready for this type of stage. She has to play 2 out of every 4 matches, and neither male is a top tier mixed player. Parenteau’s style also meshes better when she is with some power like Jessie Irvine and Callie Smith

Grade: C-


It’s almost a little too convenient that Nunnery fell all the way to #16 but we’re definitely giving the benefit of the doubt to the people running MLP as there is no way they want to be do anything to mess up the integrity of this brand new venture. Regardles, Nunnery is an absolute steal at #16. Chemistry wise he’ll mesh really well with Ben and he has been playing a lot more right side in men’s. Irina and Andrea Koop both went in very reasonable spots, especially Koop who is underrated as an attorney who does not play as many tournaments as the other top pros. You know you’re going to get an engaged Ben Johns in this event and this could be the best team out there.

Grade: A


We go from possibly the best with Team BLQK to arguably the worst in Chimeras. Even after a very good win for Kyle Yates over Jay/Pat earlier today, we remain staunch in our opinion that this is too high to pick Yates. The one thing we will say is that pairing him with Koller is a good fit in theory. Yates wants to be too alpha as a player but he is still one of the best forehand dinkers in the game, which he showed against Smith/Devilliers. If Yates is content to sit on that right side and let Koller be the aggressor in this partnership, we could see this pairing give team’s trouble.

As shocking as it was to see Yana Grechkina come off the board, Whitwell was just as surprising. Whitwell has had a strong year and a couple of good runs with Koller and Frazier in mixed at APP tournaments earlier this year, and if there is anyone that can help her out it is Anna Leigh Waters. Jillian Braverman went undrafted and getting her here could have changed the dynamic of this team dramatically. Chemistry questions aside, Braverman is too good to leave undrafted.

Grade: D

Pickle Ranchers

In the most expected move, Lindsey Newman gets paired with Riley. It was noted in our mock draft that Gritty taking Lindsey at #7 was a regret and he would have liked to take someone like Leigh Waters first then see if he could come back around to get Lindsey. This is exactly what happens in the real draft! Lindsey and Riley’s partnership needs little analysis, and we are not going to hate on the upside of the Andrei Daescu pick. He was a notable undrafted player in our mock and he could be scary with Riley as someone who doesn’t mind not being the alpha in a partnership. You do wonder how Daescu’s mixed game is given his lack of play. Lindsey and Leigh will be an interesting pairing, but there should be enough juice in this female partnership over a number of the other teams. This team carries with it a wide range of possible outcomes in our view, good and bad.

Grade: B

Team Rally

We like this team a lot. Both gender pairings have played together before and the combined hands of all players on this team is high end. No one is going to be able to power through them. Jessie Irvine is going to have to be the leader of this group and her fiery personality could be exactly what is needed for the quiet young men, JW Johnson and Dylan Frazier. This is what MLP is all about and it’ll be a ton of fun to see if this team can hold up against the teams with more veteran players. Barr going #14 behind players like Corrine Carr and Michelle Esquivel is very good value for Team Rally. Parenteau said during the draft she would have taken Barr at #11 (where Esquivel got picked) and we do not disagree.

Grade: A-

The Lions

I like and don’t like some aspects of this team. Jay Devilliers is probably the right guy to take in this slot and getting Collin Johns at #14 is very good value. Yes, people are going to have questions what Johns can do outside of the Ben Johns partnership. Nevertheless, Collin’s talent is right up there with the best and his men’s partnership fit to Devilliers should work well. Both women, however, were picked slightly early for our liking. Both are defensible choices but the upside with the choices seems limited. Yes, Stratman/Esquivel have played together, but neither has shown they can get results against the very best out there. We also have questions from a chemistry standpoint how Esquivel will fare in a format like this if things start going poorly for the Lions.

Grade: C+

Team Clean

This is a strong team for the most part. You can quibble with who should have gone first, Irvine vs. Smith, but getting Smith at #4 is rock solid. Dekel Bar as the 5th man is also one or two spots below where you might have been able to expect to get him, and then being able to put Stone together with Bar at the #12 pick might be as good value as any team got in this draft. While it would have been difficult for an owner to leave Carr on the board at this point, we would both like this team a lot more with Susannah Barr or Jillian Braverman.

Grade B-

Discovery Warriors

Zane Navratil going at #13 is good value for this draft too. We worry some about the Navratil and McGuffin men’s pairing, but Tyson probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a men’s doubles player. Tyson can take on a bigger role than he does in a partnership than what we see him in most often these days with Riley Newman. Jansen goes in the same spot that she did in our mock draft at #5 and Vivienne David going #12 is right around the area where we expected she would go. David hasn’t had great results in women’s, but she has had a good run recently in mixed.

Grade: C+

Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below or email us at

11 thoughts on “Major League Pickleball (MLP) – Draft Grades

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  • October 2, 2021 at 6:19 pm

    I was super exited to see Team Rally come together. They are my obvious “to cheer for” team. I was hoping for a team to land Dylan and Susannah, and to have them with Jessie and JW is just sensational! I totally agree that Jessie will lead this team to great results with her presence. Again today we see that Dylan is capable of standing with the best of them, and obviously we know what JW is made of, (though the Dawson partnership didn’t quite click all the way). Super excited to cheer for team Rally. And Dylan and Susannah IMO could cause most any mixed team to worry, especially in a game to 15.

    • October 2, 2021 at 7:24 pm

      Definitely agree. Love the potential with this whole group. You could partner the mixed teams either way and they will be strong. This is what makes MLP such a fun event!

    • October 3, 2021 at 6:54 pm

      Couldn’t agree more Joe

  • October 3, 2021 at 12:33 pm

    the yana pick could either be the best pick of the draft or worst. i am leaning worst because this team also passed on ALW when they had the chance to take her. on the other hand yana may be grinding away right now and making gigantic leaps in her game. And this GM knows this.

    I think nunnery went way too low and was the steal of the draft. I think you are underselling yates here. he’s a versatile, big match player, and has won countless gold in mixed and gender, and can also play some singles. his experience on the big stage is a big plus. I think TM and ZN could be a sleeper doubles team and lights out in singles obviously.

    generally speaking, hate to say this but ME (women) and PS (men) are rated more highly by others than me. My experience is that ME generally hits a wall in big matches, and can frankly disappear, for example yesterday vs SJ and LK. I think the LW pick is good. JB may be paying the price for past transgressions.

    • October 3, 2021 at 2:50 pm

      Thanks for the very interesting thoughts. Yana did also have a nice win in women’s yesterday. We’re high on her as a talent, just not right now. Do not see that working out.

      The big game thing for Yates could be true but his results since 2020 tourneys restarted have not been promising. It’s a bit shocking to go through them for someone who was the mixed and men’s national champion in 2019.

      Don’t disagree at all about Esquivel and even to a certain degree Smith. Have concerns about Esquivel with her mental game as she gets very frustrated when things do not go her way.

      You’re probably right on JB but we think talent should trump. She’s not a criminal. The upside is too high to leave alone in our opinion

  • October 3, 2021 at 4:44 pm

    agree KY results haven’t been there of late. New athletes have come in this year and made an impact. For 2021 he’s been in a kind of partner netherworld where I don’t think he was able to line up the best partners. To your point, in mixed he’s played with ALW some and they didn’t do all that well. When he has good partners in gender, he’s done better. so much of this is partner and matchup driven.

    But in this format I like the pick and I think his versatility and experience will be an asset. It will be interesting to see if he can high grade his partnerships next year, or whether the game to some extent, is passing him by,

    • October 3, 2021 at 8:35 pm

      It is true that Kyle has had some solid results with good partners, particularly Matt Wright. Still think he can be a very good right side player but it seems like he wants to be more than what his skill set is best suited for. Koller is a good fit for him if he wants to do that.

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