Major League Pickleball (MLP) – Mock Draft
It’s fun to see how much hype Major League Pickleball (MLP) seems to be bringing to the pickleball world. As much as we enjoy the tournaments, there are a lot of them and to have an event that gives variety in an evolving sport is undoubtedly exciting. Unfortunately for MLP, the player pool for the draft does not include Simone Jardim, Lucy Kovalova and Matt Wright. Kovalova and Wright could not make it due to a scheduling conflict, and we are unsure of the reason for Jardim’s withdrawal from the event. The event still features most of the top players but it’s not ideal for MLP that 3 of the game’s most recognizable players are not participating. At the same time, it was not that realistic to expect all the top players to be able to make an event that was only put together over the course of the past few months.
We want to note at the top that Steve Deakin was not selected in our mock draft. While Deakin is part of the player pool, both of us had concerns about his recent withdrawals from events due to his wrist injury. If healthy, Deakin is clearly drafted somewhere but, if we were advising a team owner, Deakin would be off our board.
As a reminder, the draft for MLP takes place on October 1st at 8:00pm EST and will be live streamed at a venue in Texas. The event itself takes place in Dreamland in Austin, Texas from November 5th to 8th. We had the initial write-up for the event and answer all the main questions about MLP in our post here.
Our draft grades following the real draft are here
We also want to take a moment at the beginning to explain the draft process. The Freestyle Boys, Ben Johns and Rob Nunnery, did their mock draft on their podcast back in August. Their format was very straightforward as they went through picking the men #1 to #16 and then the women #1 to #16 in a snake style draft. This format is quite viewer friendly. That is not how it will be done on October 1st.
Rather, there will be a lottery to determine the draft order and the draft will start with the team who gets the #1 female followed by the team who gets the #1 male, and then it will alternate female/male until the draft is complete. We have done our best in our draft chart (above) and our summary of the draft (below) to clearly set out which team was picking. We hope this format will change in future years as we can’t imagine how difficult it is going to be for the average fan to tune in and figure out what is going on right away.
Nevertheless, we wanted to do our mock draft exactly how it will be done by MLP so let’s hope we have made it clear to everyone what is going on. This is a “how we would draft” mock as opposed to a “what we think will happen” draft. Gritty drafted for all the odd numbered teams and Slim drafted for the even numbered teams. This means that Gritty acted as the owners for Teams 1, 3, 5 and 7 while Slim played the owner for Teams 2, 4, 6 and 8.
In true Grantland/Ringer style, this is the ultimate longform MLP mock draft:
(1) Team 1 Woman – Anna Leigh Waters
(2) Team 8 Man – Ben Johns
(3) Team 2 Woman – Catherine Parenteau
(4) Team 7 Man – Riley Newman
(5) Team 3 Woman – Callie Smith
Gritty – Without Jardim and Kovalova, Anna Leigh Waters was the unquestioned number one pick for the women. I think that I would have gone with her regardless, but it made my choice very easy. She is the best all around female player in pickleball and she continues to get better. Her ability to take extra court is particularly important for MLP’s format. The depth in female pickleball is not nearly as deep as the men’s side and it makes a significant difference to the player pool that there is no Simone or Lucy. This gap between the 16th female and, say, the 10th female is quite a bit bigger than it is for the men so to have a player like Anna Leigh who can cover a bunch of court is crucial.
Without Matt Wright, the Riley Newman pick was an easy one for the 2nd guy to come off the board. I think Ben Johns and Rob Nunnery put too much emphasis on singles in their mock draft. The singles prowess should only matter as a tiebreaker between two players that are very close, and Riley is clearly the next best guy. While Callie Smith’s mixed results haven’t been that good lately, she is a dominant female player and there was not much question in my mind that she should be the 3rd female taken.
Slim – The first overall men’s pick was an easy choice, the best player in all three events of men’s doubles, singles and mixed makes it easy. The team that gets Ben Johns has a major advantage in this event, it’s basically like if you have had Lebron James on your team any time in the last fifteen years, in the NBA. You need to find the right supporting cast, but you’re instantly a contender. I think Ben is the only player in this draft that makes his team an instant title contender.
With the second women’s pick in this draft, Catherine Parenteau’s consistency makes her too hard to pass up here. In both women’s and mixed, you can partner Catherine with a wide array of partners and expect her to have good results.
(6) Team 6 Man – Jay Devilliers
(7) Team 4 Woman – Jessie Irvine
(8) Team 5 Man – Dekel Bar
(9) Team 5 Woman – Lea Jansen
(10) Team 4 Man – Tyson McGuffin
(11) Team 6 Woman – Andrea Koop
Gritty – The MLP draft is not simply about taking the best available player. Chemistry matters and we get right into it with team 5 having back-to-back picks. With Devillier’s knee issues, I moved Dekel Bar slightly ahead of him prior to our draft. You want someone with these early picks that is an Alpha male in both men’s and mixed, and Bar is showing out in mixed as well these days. The only concern I have about him is the conditioning as Tyson McGuffin mentioned on his podcast that Bar was gassed in Orlando after a big mixed day there. Jansen and Bar played together for the first time in Vegas last week, and they looked good together. Her game is trending in the right direction and I like the upside her game provides. There’s a number of females you could argue here for this 5th spot though.
Slim – It’s interesting because Gritty moved Dekel ahead of Develliers, due to knee concerns, but I actually had Jay ahead of Dekel, because I had questions about Dekel having enough gas in the tank towards the end of this event, while I know that Jay is always going to compete and fight till the end and seems to have a pretty big gas tank. A few months ago, I was questioning whether Jessie Irvine had plateaued, but some new partnerships seem to have revitalized her, and she was any easy pick for me here.
I do question Tyson’s ability to be the dominant player in a top men’s doubles partnership, which is something I was generally looking for in drafting my top guys. I think he is better as the set up guy so to speak, but we have seen him have success as the more dominant partner in partnerships with Andrei Daescu and Callan Dawson this year. However, Tyson is too solid in all three events to pass up here. Also perhaps, my questions with him should have been surrounded more around mixed where he really hasn’t had a lot of success this year.
I know I had Andrea Koop, higher than Gritty, but I like her here, and I think she is one of the most talented women’s players in the game, even if she does not play as many events as some of the other pros. She and Jay have also played together a few times so I like it from a chemistry standpoint.
(12) Team 3 Man – JW Johnson
(13) Team 7 Woman – Lindsey Newman
(14) Team 2 Man – Zane Navratil
(15) Team 8 Woman – Leigh Waters
(16) Team 1 Man – Collin Johns
(17) Team 8 Woman – Irina Tereschenko
(18) Team 1 Man – Dylan Frazier
Gritty – Is this too high for JW Johnson? Some might think so but I would push back strongly against that. JW can be a bit passive but he’s capable of being the alpha on the court that can carry a team. He was next on my big board regardless, but I liked pairing him with Callie Smith. You are going to be hard pressed to find a mixed team with a better set of hands combined.
The pick I made with team 7 was one I regret. I think I had Lindsey too high on my draft board to begin with. You need power to play with Lindsey and I should have waited to see if I could get her with the 10th woman spot coming back around as there were players like Leigh Waters available that would pair well with her. Riley is going to be the 2nd male off the board and I think it’s going to be very hard for a team owner to let Lindsey fall away. I would bet good money they end up together in the real draft. Their chemistry together is what led me to make this pick, but I think if I were to do it again I would dare another team to take Lindsey. In my opinion, team owners should be choosing players based on fit for their team and should not worry about blocking the chemistry for other teams.
Another back to back selection for Team 1 in this set of picks, I go with Collin Johns and Dylan Frazier. I had Collin one spot higher than Navratil, but during the draft I would have gone Navratil. Collin’s mixed results have been spotty and I think at this point it is ideal if he has someone who can be more alpha playing with him in men’s, which is why I thought Dylan Frazier was such a good fit. Frazier has the ability to play both roles, but he’s sneaky good at being the dominant player. In this scenario, I figured you could pair Collin up with Anna Leigh and then put Frazier with the #16 female as Frazier has shown he can get results in mixed with lesser players.
Slim – I think Gritty made a big mistake taking Lindsey as the number 7 women as he is potentially, punting on his women’s doubles team, if he can’t find a women with weapons and power to pair with Lindsey at number 10, and as we’ve seen Riley can win in mixed with a number of women. His selection of Lindsey there though, did allow team number 8 to pick up Leigh Waters and Irina Tereschenko which I think should form a strong women’s doubles team, and gives a couple solid options for Ben John’s to partner with. There are some questions about whether both of these players are living off of their names and partners at this point, neither player has much in the way of mixed results this year and Irina’s lack of podium when playing with Jessie Irvine this year is concerning to say the least. With the 8th and 9th picks though in the draft, I think this is a good partnership and value.
I take Zane because of his mixed and singles prowess while I feel like he can do enough in the men’s game. I think Zane and Catherine Parenteau are going to make a very tough mixed team.
(19) Team 7 Woman – Jillian Braverman
(20) Team 2 Man – AJ Koller
(21) Team 6 Woman – Lauren Stratman
(22) Team 3 Man – Adam Stone
(23) Team 5 Woman – Vivienne David
(24) Team 4 Man – Tyler Loong
(25) Team 4 Woman – Susannah Barr
(26) Team 5 Man – Patrick Smith
Gritty – My second mistake upon reflection in this draft belonged to team 7 as well. I go with Jillian Braverman when I should have probably gone Lauren Stratman. For all my criticism of Braverman, none of it was ever playing ability related and she is really talented (she was our #1 Under the Radar player a few months ago). My reasoning behind the selection was two-fold. One, Braverman should pair well with Newman as she can/wants to cover lots of court and has the power to finish points. Two, I could see Braverman’s personality not meshing well with a lot of players out there, but that should not be a problem with the Newman’s. The fit is really good for Braverman and I’d love to see how this would all work in real life, but not taking Stratman was probably overthinking this.
Adam Stone was the 9th ranked man on my board but I knew this would be flexible. I don’t want Stone playing an alpha role and Slim pointed out his concern was that Stone would feel like he is more alpha in a JW Johnson partnership. If we get the beta Stone that plays with Dekel, him and JW are an awesome fit.
I go back-to-back with team 5 again and the next players on my board were the perfect chemistry fit here, Vivienne David and Patrick Smith. David is slated to play a lot with Bar next year and I think her game pairs well with Lea Jansen. Smith is so used to playing with Devilliers so teaming him up with Bar would seem to be a natural fit. I can then pair Smith with Jansen who can help a little bit with Smith’s lack of court coverage in the mixed game.
Slim – AJ Koller has proven that he has weapons in both mixed and men’s doubles, I like taking him here, as my biggest concern with Zane, is his lack of weapons in the men’s game but AJ provides that. Also there has not been a bigger stock riser this year than AJ Koller, he has gone from a player who basically would not have been in consideration at the start of the year, to a fringe pick option a couple months ago to a definite pick in the last couple of weeks.
A few errors by Gritty allows Lauren Stratman to drop at least a couple spots too low and I am able to take her here as a no brainer value pick at this point. As a bonus, she and Andrea Koop have started partnering so I should have some good chemistry with my women’s team as well.
I then absolutely love how things fall into place for team 4, getting to pick Susannah Barr and Tyler Loong back to back. I think Gritty made another mistake placing too much value on chemistry by taking Vivienne ahead of Susannah. Susannah and Jessie have partnered together winning the Newport tournament earlier this year. And Tyler and Tyson have partnered together this year, also at Newport, winning the tournament. Finally, Susannah and Tyler have been frequent partners so chemistry should be good, we’ve seen these partnerships work. Team 4 looks like an absolute wagon.
I think it became clear at the end of the process that the middle teams are a sweet spot in this draft, and the loss of Simone and Lucy in from the women’s field really hurts the depth of the women’s field and teams with late women’s picks are at a disadvantage.
(27) Team 3 Woman – Michelle Esquivel
(28) Team 6 Man – Rob Nunnery
(29) Team 2 Woman – Jackie Kawamoto
(30) Team 7 Man – Rob Cassidy
(31) Team 1 Woman – Sarah Ansboury
(32) Team 8 Man – Callan Dawson
Gritty – The end of the draft gets real dicey with the women. It would be a different world if Esquivel was the 16th woman. Instead, she is #14 off the board, which is the easy choice there for team 3. The problem that leaves is that Team 2 and Team 1 are left scraping the bottom of the barrel and the talent discrepancy becomes a significant handicap. I chose Sarah Ansboury only because of the fit with Anna Leigh Waters in the women’s game and her steadiness would hopefully play well with AL. I thought about going Jade Kawamoto for the upside but I ultimately choose the steady veteran considering the high stakes of this event.
My final men’s choice was down to 4 guys – Cassidy, Callan Dawson, Andrei Daescu and DJ Young. For a Newman partnership, I did not think DJ Young would fit well even though their ceiling together is lights out. I choose Cassidy because I think he fits well with Riley and he has proven a strong mixed game with the right partner. Daescu doesn’t play mixed and Dawson has not been healthy. Cassidy is the low risk choice here.
Slim – I love pairing Rob Nunnery with Jay Devilliers here, we’ve seen Rob have success playing Dekel, and Jay can basically be a slightly less powerful Dekel in this partnership. Also, I think Rob and Lauren Stratman makes for a very tough mixed doubles team, and I doubt many teams will have a stronger #2 doubles team. I am calling team 6 the APP all-stars, and I think they are one of the better teams in this field, no obvious weakness.
Taking Jackie Kawamoto here is high risk, and if I was a risk adverse owner I would have taken the very solid Sarah Ansboury here, but I had questions about whether a Sarah Ansboury / Catherine Parenteau partnership had enough pop and weapons. The bigger question is whether Jackie can hold up being grinded by the best players in the world, something she has not faced, and would undoubtedly face in her match ups here. In the end, I am here to win though, and to have a chnace to win it, I feel like I need to bet on Jackie’s upside.
UPDATE (Slim): After posting we were informed by a pretty good source (Jackie herself!) that she will not be able to play MLP, but she also confirmed that her sister Jade is in the draft pool and able to play. So I would take Jade here for the same upside reasons as Jackie!
With the final men’s pairing, I was very tempted to swing for the fences with DJ Young or Andrei Daescu, as if either of those guys played up to their full potential it would be curtains for the other teams. However, Daescu just doesn’t play enough, especially mixed for me to be confident in him. If I don’t have Ben Johns, I feel like I am taking DJ here as the talent is too undeniable, but I do have Ben Johns, and we know he has said that he would like to play with Callan. Dawson is the perfect right side player for Ben who doesn’t miss and has great hands. Also Callan has played a lot with Irina so I can partner him and Irina.
Notable Undrafted Players
Kyle Yates – You could have made an argument for Yates with one of the last two spots in this draft, but neither of us felt he deserved to be in the top 16. Outside of the Yana Grechkina pick in the Freestyle Boys mock draft that Ben has since revised, the most egregious selection was Kyle Yates as the 10th male. Someone is going to take Yates because of his name in the actual draft, but anywhere earlier than the last couple picks will be a major error.
Corrine Carr – This is another player that will almost certainly be picked based on name alone. She may have a place in MLP but, similarly to Kyle Yates, if she is picked before #15 or #16, it will be a mistake. Her recent results have not been strong and it seems her improved play has once again reached a plateau.
Jade Kawamoto – The last minute sister additions to the roster, I don’t expect either Kawamoto sister to be drafted because they are not very well known. It’s a bit of a risky proposition to pick either of them given their limited track record, but if you want to win rather than be in the middle, a Kawamoto choice could be better than a Corrine Carr or Sarah Ansboury.
Andrei Daescu and DJ Young – These are two alpha players that aren’t good enough to be the alpha’s for MLP’s purposes. Daescu doesn’t play that much, especially mixed, and you never know what DJ you’re going to get along with the fact that he wants to take all the court. Nevertheless, that’s a lot of talent to leave undrafted.
We wanted to give a little bit of a breakdown of each team as well and we’re doing this by talking about the other person’s teams. Slim is talking about the odd numbered teams and Gritty will give a quick breakdown of the even teams.
Team 1 – This team is putting a lot of pressure on the young shoulders of Anna Leigh Waters and Dylan Frazier. I think this team needs to partner Anna Leigh with Dylan in mixed. I love that partnership and do really like the Dylan and Collin partnership, then you hope Anna Leigh can carry Sarah to some wins.
Team 2 – Team 2 was looking really good until the last pick of Jackie Kawamoto. That’s the difference in this draft without Jardim and Kovalova. If you add Esquivel or Barr to this team, this is a winning team. However, that’s a lot of pressure to put on Jackie Kawamoto, especially in that women’s partnership with Catherine Parenteau.
Team 3 – Team 3 is a team where I like all the individual players, but I don’t love a lot of the partnerships, and I think there is some potential for chemistry issues. I think one problem, with JW being your top pick in this format, is he is not going to be your leader, so the picks around him are key.
Team 4 – This is arguably the best team that was drafted in our mock. There are no weak spots, chemistry with Barr/Loong, McGuffin/Loong and Barr/Irvine all having recent partnerships together.
Team 5 – Team 5 is a very solid team. I don’t love the Lea and Vivienne women’s partnership but the mixed partnerships and men’s team with Dekel and Pat are very strong.
Team 6 – It’s clear that the middle picks are the sweet spot. Slim’s APP All-Star team is one that is very solid. There is a lot of chemistry going on and nothing in terms of weak spots.
Team 7 – I have to be honest, after his first selection of Riley, I didn’t like any of the picks that Gritty made for this team, but when I look at in the end I think this team could work out. Jillian, is the high variance pick here. A Cassidy/Braverman mixed partnership could surprise some people.
Team 8 – If you get a #1 pick, you want it to be the men because the guys are just so much deeper. Not to mention the fact that Ben can cover up a lot of warts. Ben has said previously that he would like to play with Callan Dawson and, if healthy, Dawson is a great fit for Ben. You can put the mixed partnerships either way, but Callan isn’t that strong of a mixed player despite some history with Irina. I definitely like the middle teams the best in this entire draft.
Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
8 thoughts on “Major League Pickleball (MLP) – Mock Draft”
Thanks for the very in depth mock draft!
My top 3 teams that you drafted are teams 8, 6, and 4, in that order. 8 will depend on how Callan plays in mixed though. We’ll see how the draft ends up tomorrow!
Thanks as always for reading. We’ll have some draft thoughts on Saturday most likely too
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