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Major League Pickleball

MLP Challenger Level Players On The Rise Ahead of 2024 MLP Draft

by Erik Tice on

The Major League Pickleball (MLP) Premier Level Draft is slated for Tuesday, April 2nd.

Every draft there is some movement in terms of which players get drafted in the Premier Level versus the Challenger Level. A lot depends on the player’s level of play, but team chemistry and relationships also play a factor in draft decisions.

If any of this sounds confusing, or if you haven’t gotten into MLP yet, we've got you covered with our 2024 MLP Draft refresher.

In the 2023 Season 2 Draft, there were seven players that made the jump to Premier Level. Here are the top eight players with the best chance of getting picked up in the Premier Level on April 2nd:

NOTE: As of publication, players who are not contracted with the PPA or MLP are not eligible to be drafted in either the Premier Level or Challenger Level, so they are not listed here.

1. Gabe Tardio

Tardio was in the Premier Level in 2023 MLP Season 1, with some less-than-stellar results. He didn’t get picked up in the Premier Level in Season 2. Instead, he was the second overall pick in Challenger Level with the LA Mad Drops.

Tardio was the second-highest rated player at the last regular season event in Dallas. The Bolivian has some extremely fast hands and great reach. The 18-year old has had a ton of success in 2024, earning a silver medal in men’s doubles with Andrei Daescu at PPA Mesa. They did that while also beating the Johns brothers. 

Daescu and Tardio then went on to win APP Sacramento in men’s doubles while in mixed doubles, Tardio got a bronze medal with Jill Braverman.

Tardio is a very well-rounded player and is very well connected in pickleball. There is no doubt he will be drafted in the Premier Level in April.

2. Tina Pisnik

Pisnik was picked up in the Challenger Level in 2023 MLP Season 2 by the BLQK Bears. The 43-year old former standout tennis star has come onto the pickleball scene in a big way in the last year. 

In 2024, Pisnik hasn’t missed the quarterfinals yet in women’s doubles with multiple partners. She can play both the right and left in gender doubles, which is an added bonus.

In mixed doubles, Pisnik has been playing a lot with Dekel Bar this year and the duo has at least made the Round of 16 each time out on the PPA Tour. Their best finish was at the Indoor Championships, beating Matt Wright and Lucy Kovalova and then Connor Garnett and Allyce Jones on their way to a fourth-place finish.

Pisnik has proven she is in the upper echelon of women’s players. Her defense and ability to reset pretty much any ball helps her stand out amongst the women in the lower end of the Premier Level. Pisnik isn’t a lock to make the Premier Level, but the odds are good.

3. CJ Klinger

Klinger was the Challenger Level MVP twice in 2023 MLP Season 2 for the SoCal Hard Eights. The lanky lefty is only 18 years old and mostly plays on the APP Tour, so we don’t always see him against the best competition in the world. However, he proved himself on the bigger stage at the Challenger Level in 2023.

Klinger is a big upside pick and his youth plays into the equation. He is definitely not a guaranteed Premier Level player, but in the right situation he could definitely get drafted. What is the right situation? If a team drafts a guy who is dominant on the left side and then also drafts a woman who is very comfortable on the left as well. 

4. Jaume Martinez Vich

Vich is an ELITE singles player – easily a top seven men’s singles player in the world. He is getting better and better in doubles. This would definitely be an upside pick, but Vich has every tool in his tool shed to warrant a Premier Level look.

Vich grew up in Mallorca, Spain, and played tennis throughout his childhood. He played college tennis at Hawaii Pacific University and found pickleball a little over a year ago. He is training intensely now and is playing pro pickleball full time.

To learn more about Vich, check out our recent PicklePod episode with him.

5. Milan Rane

Rane is coming off a women’s doubles gold medal with Jorja Johnson on the APP Tour. She also got a fourth-place finish at the APP Miami in mixed doubles with Will Howells. 

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Rane is definitely in the conversation for most improved player over the last six months or so. While she is petite, Rane brings a lot of power, especially with her two-handed backhand volley. If her connections (the Johnsons and Tardio) need a woman toward the back end of the Premier Level, Rane will be in the conversation for sure.

6. Bobbi Oshiro

Oshiro is another petite player with a ton of power and even more consistency. She was drafted in the first round of the Challenger Level Draft in 2023 MLP Season 2 and was a leader on her team. Oshiro and Milan Rane finished in fifth place in the PPA Desert Ridge, with wins over Allyce Jones and Megan Fudge and then Lea Jansen and Lacy Schneemann.

Oshiro seems to be a great teammate – she always has a smile on her face and encourages her teammates and hypes them up. This goes a long way in the MLP format and GMs definitely notice these things.

7. DJ Young

DJ probably has the highest ceiling out of everyone on this list - either him or Tardio. The problem for Young is he also has an extremely low floor. When Young is on, he is ON. If DJ starts playing tight or shows a lack of enthusiasm, he has a tendency to self implode. Young made back-to-back quarterfinals in men’s doubles at PPA Mesa and the Indoor National Championships. 

Young was the victim of being drafted by the Frisco Pandas in 2023 MLP Season 1, which was one of the worst MLP teams in 2023. In the Season 2 draft, he was drafted in the first round of the Challenger Level to the Milwaukee Mashers, and they never really made a great run. Young has the ability to be a top 10 guy if he is put in the right situation.

8. Judit Castillo

If MLP was just singles, Castillo would be a top 10 draft pick. She is getting better in doubles and is playing pickleball full time now. Castillo is known as one of the fastest and most athletic female players on tour. As she continues to grow her doubles game, this would definitely be an upside pick.

Castillo was born in Spain and now resides in Louisiana. She's played tennis since the age of 12 and played college tennis in America at Northwestern State University (LA), where she won a total of 54 singles matches throughout her career. Castillo could be a top 10-15 woman within the next year or so, making her a dark horse to be picked by a Premier Level team.

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