It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yes, it’s draft time. The best thing about the influx of new ownerships and having to appease both legacy and new owners is that we’re going to get two drafts for the 2023 season. It makes for a weird year, but more drafts are more fun. Keep in mind, these draft grades are not predictions for MLP. Our grades account for how we think a team drafted relative to its position and which players were available at their draft slots. However, we are giving out actual opinions on the teams as opposed to the power hour of positivity draft coverage that occurred on the Tennis Channel last night.
New Jersey 5’s – Anna Leigh Waters (#1), James Ignatowich (#24), Lea Jansen (#25), Hayden Patriquin (#48)
We are pretty high on James Ignatowich, but had some concerns about him being a team’s number one guy heading into this draft, so to take him at 24 with a number of the names on the board was a surprise to us – Tyler Loong, Andrei Daescu and Thomas Wilson come to mind. James is training with Anna Leigh these days so this definitely appears to be a bet by Anna Leigh on his potential. Lea Jansen at 25 is also interesting for this team as Jansen could easily have gone higher in the draft with her weapons and ability to cover court, but she’s not the most natural fit next to AL. This team should be a very strong Dreambreaker team as they arguably have the top two women’s singles player and, when Hayden Patriquin is your weak link in singles, you aren’t in a bad spot.
Seattle Pioneers – Ben Johns (#2), Etta Wright (#23), Meghan Sheehan-Dizon (#33), Tyler Loong (#40)
Note: Seattle traded their #26 and #47 picks to Vegas for the #33 and #40 picks.
Starting a team with Ben Johns makes things easier. He is still the most well rounded pickleball player on the planet. Our current take is that Ben Johns over Anna Leigh at the #1 or #2 slot is optimal, and we really like the moves Seattle made after taking Ben. We appear to be higher than most on Etta Wright and think she could be a steal at 23 – she was the #12 overall player on our board. Then trading down on the women to get a guy that we felt like fell WAY too far, in Tyler Loong, is smart.
We are not sure how the mixed team of Tyler Loong and Meghan Sheehan-Dizon will fair, but it was interesting that Ben Johns traded down in the third round. Meghan was one of our toughest evaluations but the fact that Ben Johns was okay giving up Stratman to ultimately select Dizon to upgrade their 2nd male spot was duly noted by us. In fact, Ben going with Etta and Meghan as his women was duly noted. One other downside for this team is that neither of their women ever plays tournament singles, and we have no idea if they can really play singles, or at what level they are. On the whole though, their issues seem a lot smaller than a lot of teams.
ATX Pickleballers – JW Johnson (#3), Jackie Kawamoto (#22), Jade Kawamoto (#27), Gabriel Tardio (#46)
We are individually pretty high on all of these players, but we do have concerns about the team’s energy level overall. I would imagine that the Tardio pick was driven by JW wanting to play with his friend, and Gabe probably offered as much upside as anyone that was out there at this point in the draft. However, we wonder if a more veteran and steady presence could have been more beneficial to the team at this spot. The benefit of Tardio is he offers more punch in mixed for a #2 team. This team will likely go as far as the teenager can take them.
NYC Hustlers – Anna Bright (#4), Tyson McGuffin (#21), Rafa Hewett (#28), Lacy Schneemann (#45)
If one thing is certain for MLP, it is that this team will bring the energy. In our eyes, Anna Bright is second most impactful woman in the draft, so we are fine with taking her at four, but I feel like the impact women aren’t quite as impactful as the impact men. One interesting thing to note here is that this team took the lefty Rafa Hewett when Tyler Loong was still on the board. It is especially interesting because Anna spent a lot of the season playing with Tyler Loong, and Tyson has also played a few tournaments and had some success with him. One has to presume that Anna was consulted on this pick and may not be in love with Tyler’s 3rd, 5th, 7th etc. shot drive strategy in mixed, or the limited work he seems to put into his game. Lacy has good upside in mixed and can play some singles. We’ll be curious to see how her game progresses in the first half of 2023.
Los Angeles Mad Drops – Catherine Parenteau (#5), Irina Tereschenko (#20), Julian Arnold (#29), Thomas Wilson (#44)
We feel a couple of teams were saved in the draft by some very quality men falling much farther than we would have expected. In our opinion, the first three picks by the Mad Drops were all reaches and it seems like there were better options at all slots. The thing is, Thomas Wilson falling to them at the 44th pick, saves them. This may not be the consensus outlook, but taking Catherine at five was the biggest reach in the draft. She is a right-side female, with limited weapons and upside. With that said, Irina is a good fit for Catherine as a partner at number 20, though we think it will end up being a mistake to pass on Etta Wright there. We also think there were better options than Julian Arnold at 29, but he and Thomas partnered together offers upside even if the fit is not perfect. Moreover, it gives them two solid mixed teams. An advantage this team has over many is that in a Dreambreaker they have no weak link in singles.
SoCal Hard Eights – Riley Newman (#6), AJ Koller (#19), Mary Brascia (#30), Lindsey Newman (#43)
Note: The Hard Eights traded all four of their draft picks with BLQK, who ended up selecting 10th.
No team rolled the dice harder than SoCal, which should not be surprising since they are literally called the Hard Eights. SoCal traded up to grab Riley Newman at number six as Riley fell due to him being unavailable for the first event of a three event season. We still had Riley at number 3 on our big board, because he is one of the few players who can win doubles matches pretty much on his own, so we obviously are a fan of taking him at 6. Things got interesting with the 19th pick. With women already flying off the board, the Hard Eights selected another male in AJ Koller. We had AJ as the 5th best man in this draft, and a top ten player, so there was definitely value in AJ at 19, but picking him here, was definitely a zag, when a lot of the conventional wisdom says two strong women is a key to MLP success.
The picks of Mary Brascia and Lindsey Newman were fine in those slots, but it obviously leaves them with one of the weakest women’s doubles team. Another interesting element with this team is that the Lindsey Newman pick gives the Hard Eights an elite mixed with their second woman, allowing them to have two strong mixed teams, as Koller and Brascia should be a formidable duo. Another concern with the Lindsey pick is that she is not a singles player nor is brother Riley. Although, we know Riley is capable to a certain degree in singles.
Cabo Vamos! – Jay Deivlliers (#7), Simone Jardim (#18), Allyce Jones (#31), Erik Lange (#42)
We are not sure what Cabo’s game plan was here. Jay Devilliers, in our minds, is not a true number one guy, and with options like Dylan Frazier, Matt Wright and AJ Koller still on the board, among others, it was perplexing to see him go at #7. Simone Jardim profiles much better as a right side, number two woman at this point in her career, so taking her at 18 seemed like a reach. The Simone selection was likely made worse by going Allyce Jones, leaving them with two ladies who are probably best suited to playing that right, though Simone can play the left. Simone and Allyce are both good mixed players so it would have seemed to make sense for this team to go for a high upside mixed, singles player with its last men’s pick, but instead they went with Erik Lange who is pretty much a men’s doubles specialist. We have always thought Lange has been underrated, but it’s hard to see how he fits with this team.
Florida Smash – Jessie Irvine (#8), Jorja Johnson (#17), Travis Rettenmaier (#32), Collin Johns (#41)
Well, we found out that Travis certainly ranks himself as a number one male in this draft. The Smash present a weird situation for the league where a team knows one player they have to draft. We had actually predicted that the Smash would probably wait until the last pick to draft Travis knowing that no one else would pick him, but apparently they thought he was just too valuable to wait. We will see how good he is, playing with the ultimate right-side guy in Collin Johns, and arguably the second best mixed women’s player in Jessie Irvine. Overall, we think Travis is talented and has proved this is not an unreasonable slot for him, even if it was a little surprising. This team will go as far as Travis can take them. Their women’s team profiles as elite with Jorja Johnson and Jessie Irvine, which is a great match of styles. It will be interesting to see how Collin Johns meshes with Jorja Johnson in mixed and whether Collin plays the right in mixed too. How is the chemistry going to be with this team’s unique mix of personalities?
Las Vegas Night Owls – Vivienne David (#9), Dekel Bar (#16), Lauren Stratman (#26), Kyle Yates (#47)
Note: Las Vegas traded the #33 and #40 picks to Seattle for the #26 and #40 selections.
We were between a C+ and an incomplete grade on this team for their draft. We must admit that we were dumbfounded that a team decided to build itself around a failed partnership, but we also do not have full knowledge of how things are between David and Bar, who we understood did not conclude their partnership on the best of terms. Dekel Bar and Vivienne David were mixed partners this year, and given the calibre of them as individual players, their results on the court were certainly disappointing, at best. The partnership also ended fairly abruptly with both players scrambling to find new mixed partners this summer. So why a team would take those two players with their first two picks is beyond us.
Their men’s team of Dekel and Kyle Yates should be quite strong, and their women’s team of Vivienne and Lauren Stratman also seems like a good fit, and makes sense. To upgrade to that Stratman tier of women is a trade worth making, but when Ben trades out of that spot we have to wonder if the gap isn’t as big between Dizon and Stratman as we may think. Overall, we have concerns with the chemistry of this team, keeping in mind we have limited knowledge of the situation.
California BLQK Bears – Andrea Koop (#10), Dylan Frazier (#15), Federico Staksrud (#34), Maggie Brascia (#39)
We are just not sure what this team gets you. Any of the picks at the spots they took them are not objectionable, but we don’t feel like either the men’s or women’s team are in the upper echelon. Both of their mixed teams should be decent, and we think Federico and Maggie Brascia could surprise some people, but we also would not call them elite. Federico over Daescu or Loong was odd.
Milwaukee Mashers – Callie Smith (#11), Lucy Kovalova (#14), Andrei Daescu (#35), DJ Young (#38)
Talk about being saved by the draft. We thought that the Mashers’ choice to go with Callie Smith and Lucy Kovolova was interesting with their top two picks given that we think you could argue that both players have had relatively disappointing years, and their partnership, while it has gotten some results, has been far from dominant. We had some other women rated higher than both of them in these spots, but it set them up with a good right side and a good left women’s players.
What saved them is they were somehow able to hit it big in the second half of the draft, getting Andrei Dasecu and DJ Young with the 35th and 38th picks. Andrei provides them with a left-side dominant male and we think DJ profiles best a right side men’s player. One weakness for this team is that, outside of Callie, none of their players play singles regularly. They are all at least adequate at singles, but they definitely don’t have any elite singles players.
Frisco Clean Cause – Zane Navratil (#12), Matt Wright (#36), Yana Grechkina (#36), Lina Padegimaite (37)
We don’t hate Frisco’s attempt to zag, when so many teams were zigging by going with a couple of guys with their top picks at 12 and 13, but we don’t think they took the right guys. We feel like a Dylan Frazier and AJ Koller team was there for the taking. In this draft slot, going back-to-back guys was almost certainly going to leave them with limited options. Yana and Lina at 36 and 37 may very well have been the best picks available but it is not a strong women’s team. Also, Lina seems to favor the left side, which could be an issue playing with Matt or Zane in mixed. That is a problem when you go back-to-back men and want to form two strong mixed teams.
Notable Undrafted Men
Rob Nunnery – Nunnery is the most talented player that did not get selected. Rob was not in our top 48 either but he would be there based on talent alone. With him playing only a handful of events in 2022, teams clearly felt they could not take the chance on him with the inability to pick up any viable replacements. The first half of the year will be key for Nunnery to prove he can play a full schedule and that he belongs at the Premier level.
Spencer Smith – It’s not surprising to see Smith go undrafted, but you wonder if he was a better option at the end of the draft for either Anna Leigh Waters or JW Johnson.
Callan Dawson – A tricky evaluation, Callan is such a steady force but his limitations in mixed and singles made him a borderline draftable player.
Wes Burrows – Wes would have been an upside pick for a team. The issue with taking swings at the end of the draft is that you likely can’t replace them if it’s a bad choice. Burrows may never go all-in on pickleball, and that appears to be what is holding him back from seeing what his true potential is.
Hunter Johnson – He has not been playing mixed doubles recently and he continues to suffer bad losses in men’s doubles. Nevertheless, a guy who has become one of the top singles players out there probably got some looks from teams looking for a back-end, upside male.
Christian Alshon – This would have been the real home run swing and we felt he was a legitimate option for teams in the 4th round who did not like the look of their team. From what we can see, Alshon’s doubles game is not ready for the big leagues yet.
Sam Querrey – We seriously wondered before the draft if someone had a deal with Querrey to pick him. He does not deserve a selection and it’s good to see he was not picked for the sake of publicity.
Notable Undrafted Women
Susannah Barr – Another non-surprise from a going undrafted standpoint. Her quirky style and stretches of inconsistency continue to cause people to overlook her, but her overall doubles games is significantly better than just about all of the women drafted after Lauren Stratman. People forget she took a bronze with Vivienne David at a PPA event this year.
Cierra Gaytan-Leach – Limited movement might be the biggest hurdle for Cierra to overcome if she wants to get drafted by a Premier level team. The doubles game still needs more seasoning, but she has some high-end tools in her bag that make her intriguing.
Megan Fudge – She was a borderline player who made our top 48. You wonder if she was a better option for any of the teams picking a woman in the 4th round based on her singles ability alone. The doubles game is still fairly vanilla though.
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