We’re only a few short days away from the first event of Major League Pickleball (MLP) season 2. Everyone loved the first incarnation of MLP, and it will be fascinating to see if this next installment without most of the PPA players can live up to the billing of what we first saw at Dreamland. The big announcement at the draft reveal on Saturday was the cash money y’all as the grand prize for the winning team will be $100,000 for each event, meaning each player gets $25,000. The total prize pool will also be $1,000,000. There are some billionaires in this picture and the money alone is going to be enticing to keep players coming back.
What neither of us can really understand is why MLP chose to build the hype in the way they did. They had these grand announcements they wanted to make in the city that never sleeps, but what that amounts to is less time to get people to jump on the hype train. The draft reveal on Saturday was announcing a draft that had already been completed with the players sworn to secrecy, which does not seem conducive to gaining steam for your first marquee event of the year.
On top of that, the draft reveal was far less exciting than last year. Only the first picks were revealed in order and then the teams were shown as a whole without a reminder of where everyone was picked. The whole fun in a draft is being able to debate who is going to be picked next, whether someone was picked too high or too low, who is left on the board etc. In our view, doing this as a draft reveal rather than an actual draft was a total misstep in being able to create that draft experience as they did last year. There is a reason the NFL makes the draft into this huge spectacle year after year.
If you don’t know how MLP works, you’ll have to go to their website as we are not explaining all of it here. We will let you know that, other than alternates or a supplementary draft under very limited conditions, the teams will stay the same for all 3 events, which sure makes that draft far more important. There are also 12 teams this year instead of 8 and they are putting it together as 3 pools of 4 teams that will play round robin style. The top 2 teams from each pool will funnel into a single elimination bracket.
Of course, we figured since we were so spot on with our draft grades last year, we had to do them again for 2022. Here are your NML Pickleball draft grades for MLP season 2.
Clean – Dekel Bar (M2), Michelle Esquivel (W11), Regina Franco (W14), Joey Farias (M23)
This is a veteran team that should be solid all around but where is the upside? We would have liked a higher upside bet on one of the women’s picks, especially the Regina Franco spot. We think we overrated Dekel as a mixed player when sorting out the season 1 MLP draft situation and he may have some trouble winning with either of these partners. It also sounds like Thomas Shields has never actually watched Joey Farias play. Shields referred to Farias as “Mr. Consistent” on Saturday but that’s literally the opposite of what Joey is. Joey is a shot maker and the problem with his Jeff Warnick partnership was their combined lack of consistency. We did have Joey as a player to be drafted but the fit with Dekel leaves a lot of room for variance.
ATX Pickleballers – Dylan Frazier (M4), Jade Kawamoto (W9), Sarah Ansboury (W16), Altaf Merchant (M21)
A running theme for our draft grades is that with more teams and less high-end players, there was more room for teams to have different assessments of players. In our view, this led to a lot of teams missing opportunities for better choices, in our humble opinions. Dylan Frazier and Jade Kawamoto will be good together, and Altaf should also fit well for Frazier. However, this team does not seem talented enough with the 2nd male and female to consistently win 3 of the 4 matches every time out. The singles is also going to be a big problem with Sarah and Altaf.
Jackrabbits – AJ Koller (M3), Jackie Kawamoto (W10), Mary Brascia (W15), Wes Gabrielsen (M22)
The Kawamoto’s both went too low in this draft so that’s a nice pick there. Mary Brascia has some upside but has not been playing a lot of competitive pickleball recently. These are projection picks to a degree though with 3 total events. Even though Mary is a solid player, we think either Parris Todd or Lina Pidegimaite would have slotted in better here. The big mystery is the Wes Gabrielsen pick though as we didn’t have him anywhere near our list as a drafted player. Koller is the right partnership for him but we’ll see if he can hold up. If Wes holds up, then this team should be pretty solid. This could have been a scary team with a couple of better picks though
Update (Wednesday, 11:45 am EST) – Wes Gabrielsen is replaced by Hayden Patriquin. We’re not sure if players outside of the alternates were available. If not, Patriquin is probably the best choice. His game is higher variance with how aggressively he plays so we’ll see how that fits with Koller’s aggression in men’s. But it should be helpful for a 2nd mixed pairing. This is an upgrade for the Jackrabbits in our eyes even if other players in the draft pool may have been better fits – we’ll keep noting Tardio and Newell, who is a lefty.
BLQK – Irina Tereschenko (W6), Zane Navratil (M7), Rafa Hewett (M18), Parris Todd (W19)
Tyson Apostol picked this team to win and that is a possibility. We worry about Irina being the lead dog on the female side of things as her results have tapered off as of late. However, Parris Todd may very well be the steal of the draft. We do have to remember the draft was done about a month ago and Todd has ascended further since that time. Rafa Hewett was an odd pick. We had him right on the cusp as a potential draftee but he’s so hot and cold that you wonder how he holds up over the course of a weekend. He’s scary when he’s on though.
Mad Drops Pickleball Club – Vivienne David (W2), Adam Stone (M11) – replaced by Stefan Auvergne, Julian Arnold (M14), Olivia McMillan (W23)
Adam Stone suffered a calf strain at the New York City Open so he won’t be playing but it was too high for him at this spot. There is an argument to be made that Stefan Auvergne is an upgrade to Stone, although that may be a stretch. It’s tough for this team to have your lead female being more suited as a complimentary, right-sided player. Adam Stone is also a right-side player and , frankly, that’s not the right way to build an MLP team. Julian Arnold is a nice 2nd pick for a more aggressive male with upside, particularly in mixed. The other problem with these early female slots is that it is slim pickings toward the end of the draft. Olivia McMillan was definitely draftable but having Megan Fudge go after her will almost certainly be a regret for Mad Drops along with most other teams towards the end of the draft here. We have seen Auvergne get results with Corrine Carr but McMillan is at least a step down. It could be a long season for this team
Pre-Adam Stone Injury Grade: C-
Update (Thursday, 8:30 pm EST) – More updates as we get the third stringer coming in for Adam Stone. After Stefan Auvergne was slated to step-in for Stone, we now have another lefty, Ben Newell, in for Auvergne. It looks like there is a bout of COVID going through the MLP players. Unfortunately, most of these people were in the same location on the weekend and are now in the same location in Austin. Matt Manasse posted on Instagram that he is out as a commentator due to COVID. While nothing official is out, we can start to put 2 and 2 together for the more recent players who are announced as out without an injury designation. It seems like there is a decent chance more replacements are on the way. Newell is a fine replacement as we had him and Auvergne pretty close together. It’s going to start getting pretty grim if more replacements are needed, especially for the higher drafted players.
Chimeras – Andrea Koop (W1), Rob Cassidy (M12), Daniel De La Rosa (M13) , Megan Fudge (W24)
Andrea Koop was probably the highest floor pick of the women available at #1. She has more offence than she gets credit for. Rob Cassidy went right around where he should, but the De La Rosa pick is probably the biggest swing for the fences pick of the draft. With 3 events, it could be a good pick to motivate De La Rosa to work harder on the pickleball side of things but the talent is more potential than realized still at this stage for him. We had De La Rosa in our top 24, but right near the bottom as more of an upside pick. Another theme for a few of these teams, Erik Lange would have looked real nice in a few different spots, including this one. It was a steal to get Megan Fudge at #24. At a minimum, she went a few spots too low.
The Bus – Lauren Stratman (W3), Kyle Yates (M10), Eden Lica (M15), Milan Rane (W22)
None of these picks are bad on their own. Stratman arguably could have gone as the #1 female. The Yates and Lica picks are right in line with where we had them ranked on our board. However, from a team building perspective, you are going with two right-sided players who don’t get great mixed results. Erik Lange would have looked REAL nice next to Kyle Yates in men’s doubles. It’s tough at the end of these drafts for the women but, despite playing with Eden, there was more upside than Rane at #22. If you didn’t want Fudge, Alix Truong may have been a higher upside option.
Florida Smash – JW Johnson (M1), Maggie Remynse (W12), Lee Whitwell (W13), Travis Rettenmaier (M24)
This team obviously took Rettenmaier at #24 because he is an owner, but it’s not a bad pick. He wouldn’t have been our pick there but he may offer about as much upside as anyone available with his talent. It comes down to how well he can mesh with JW. Lee and JW should be super strong in the MLP format as we saw what AJ and Lee did against better competition last year. Maggie Remynse has game as well and against some of those women’s teams her steadiness with Whitwell should play well.
The 5’s – Simone Jardim (W4), Rob Nunnery (M9), Erik Lange (M16), Lina Padegimaite (W21) ￼
This was Thomas Shields’ pick to win it all on the reveal show and we have to agree. It appears Rob Nunnery may have been very fortunate for the second straight year. We know Lange isn’t a great mixed player but getting him at #16 then Padegimaite at #21 are both steals. Even Jardim and Nunnery could be said to be steals at the slots they got them. Nunnery has played with Padegimaite if you want to pair them up. Every slot was good value for the players chosen on this team.
Update (Wednesday, 6:25 pm EST): Pablo Tellez is replacing Rob Nunnery as Nunnery suffered a knee injury in NYC. This is an odd one. Who knows which players were available but Tellez isn’t even the best lefty from the draft pool, unless this went to singles. That should belong to Ben Newell. Gabe Tardio would have been our pick to slot in here. Again, it seems Gabe’s age and appearance give people the wrong impression. Who cares? Pablo didn’t make our possible drafted players list from those in the pool. Huge downgrade for the 5s and changes the entire dynamic of this team as well as the pool.
Ranchers – Anna Bright (W5), DJ Young (M8), Austin Gridley (M17), Maggie Brascia (W20) ￼
This team was set up very nicely to be a great team until the Maggie Brascia pick. Neither of us had her in the realm of getting drafted but we also haven’t seen her play in the last few months really. They may have been favorites if they went with someone like Padegimaite or Fudge. Now, the big question is whether Maggie will be able to win any matches for them? Shields said this was the highest upside, lowest floor team, and that seems correct. DJ, Austin and Anna as personalities make for some concerns on the chemistry side of things over the course of the weekend too.
Side note, we need to make sure we do some research before making factual proclamations. Michelle McMahon saying on the broadcast that Anna Bright has only been playing pickleball since February was…well, very wrong. Take the 30 seconds to go through the player history on Pickleball Tournaments. Please.
Lions – Thomas Wilson (M5), Bobbi Oshiro (W8), Corrine Carr (W17), Chuck Taylor (M20)
We are big Bobbi Oshiro fans over here but pairing her with Corrine Carr is not a natural fit. Bobbi at 8 may have been slightly high for her but Parris Todd was here for the taking. That could have changed this team’s dynamic. Thomas Wilson and Chuck Taylor will be a solid team, but we are not sure if this team can win 3 games in any given match.
Hard Eights – Andrei Daescu (M6), Jorja Johnson (W7), Susannah Barr (W10), John Cincola (M19)
This is a strong 3-team pool. Andrei Daescu continues to prove he is higher end and Jorja Johnson at #7 is solid. We also think Susannah Barr at #10 is pretty good value and it’s possible people may have shied away from her after last year’s poor MLP showing. Cincola is fine but there were better options out there at this spot. The lefties, Stefan Auvergne or Ben Newell, would have been a really good fit, especially to pair with Susannah in mixed who is uber comfortable playing the left in mixed.
The alternates for the event are playing tonight in Dreamland for Pickleball Night in America. The women consist of Rachael James, Christine McGrath, Martina Kochli and Rachel Rettger. The male alternates playing are Wyatt Stone, Hayden Patriquin, Brandon Nsekpong and Brandon French. The only alternates we had as players that could have been drafted were Martina Kochli, Rachel Rettger and Hayden Patriquin. Below are our notable undrafted players that were in the player pool.
Stefan Auvergne – He does go as a sub for Adam Stone. What we wrote before the news is that he gets results with anyone he plays with for a relative newcomer. Teams are going to regret passing on him late. He has the ability to be both the beta or alpha in a partnership, and has strong mixed results.
Gabriel Tardio – If he’s 20 years old, someone drafts him. His age and how young he looks do not help him, but he’s someone that easily could have found his way onto a team.
Ben Newell – He continues to be underrated. How many players out there are getting 4th at a PPA event with Jack Oxler?
Cierra Gayten-Leach – She doesn’t play that many tournaments outside of the west coast but she should not have been forgotten given some of the women that were drafted.
Martina Kochli – A veteran of the game who can just be solid. This would not have been an upside pick but she can be a little underrated for the bottom of the draft.
Alix Truong – This would have looked better if we had done a mock draft but after her surprise weekend with Monica Paolicelli, Truong could have been more of an upside option right at the end of the draft. Again, her age may have played a part in teams staying away from her.
Other Could Have Been Drafted Players: Mario Barrientos, Brendan Long, Ryler DeHeart, Hayden Patriquin, Rachel Rettger, Meg Charity, Abbie Brooks, Emily Ackerman.
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