Over the weekend, four U.S. Olympians drafted ‘SwimSquads’ – essentially fantasy teams that will compete with one another over the 2019 Pro Swim Series, with a charity donation on the line. We did the research and came up with our own mock draft a few weeks back, and now it’s time to run a quick analysis on what actually happened in last night’s draft.
First, a quick look at our research. Below, we’ve got the actual draft results (the first six rounds were live-streamed, but the remaining rounds were not, so we don’t know the exact draft order after the top 20 picks) along with our fast-glance analysis in which we’ve broken down each roster into the pre-draft tiers we used in our mock draft. As before, these tier rankings are based on our own research and weigh heavily (1) how many PSS meets each swimmer is expected to swim and (2) how well they are expected to swim in-season based on results of previous Pro Swim Series seasons.
These are not rankings of the best swimmers in each discipline. Yes, some lower-ranked swimmers did beat some higher-ranked swimmers at Nationals. Yes, some lower ranked swimmers will beat some higher-ranked swimmers this summer. But this list is about PSS production, which means pros are rated much more highly than college swimmers – our 2018 research tells us that pro swimmers in this draft pool appeared more than twice as often on the PSS as college athletes, and high school athletes appeared less than either category. No two athletes or programs are the same, either. Gregg Troy swimmers (say, Caeleb Dressel) don’t appear on the PSS very often, and when they do, they don’t swim like they’re tapered. All of this affects our rankings, which are, of course, at their core completely subjective. Feel free to disagree, but understand first what these rankings are specifically trying to quantify.
Each discipline is broken down by color in the second tab. Darker colors are higher tiers; lighter colors are lower.
Now, we’ll run through team-by-team with a look at who is strong or thin in each discipline.
A quick recap of the scoring system:
Each team should wind up with around 27 swimmers, but only 6 will start in any given month. Each of the 2019 Pro Swim Series’ five stops will feature its own unique lineup: captains select six starters before the meet, one in each discipline:
- Free (50 through 1500)
- Back (50 through 200)
- Breast (50 through 200)
- Fly (50 through 200)
- IM (200 and 400)
- Flex (any 2 events)
Placing in the top 8 will yield points in this order:
- 1st: 10
- 2nd: 8
- 3rd: 7
- 4th: 5
- 5th: 4
- 6th: 3
- 7th: 2
- 8th: 1
Draft wins: top talents at 4 disciplines, open water leader
While getting the first pick was more luck than skill, DiRado clearly had a draft strategy we have to applaud. Of all the disciplines, breaststroke is the hardest to predict. On the men’s side, we’ve got in the ballpark of 7 breaststrokers who could turn out to be the top scorer, all of them pros. (Wilson, Prenot, Cordes, Fink, Miller, Licon, Andrew, for those wondering). On the women’s side, the clear top option (Lilly King) is still in college and only attended 3 of 6 stops last season. That depth is the reason why Jason Lezak’s strategy last year of monopolizing the breaststrokers didn’t work – there were just too many viable options for any team to starve the other teams of potential starters. So DiRado wisely chose to sit out the breaststroke market early, effectively filling her other four disciplines comfortably with his first five picks.
Chase Kalisz is the team-carryer in this competition, attending all 6 stops and going unbeaten in the IMs last year. There’s no reason that should change in 2019. He also got Ryan Murphy, the consensus top male backstroker, who attended 4 of 6 events last year. (We had mocked Murphy to go 5th overall; Jaeger got him at #8). Jack Conger is one of four top-tier flyers, who comes with an interesting twist: he only swim 3 of 6 PSS meets last year, but is switching up training homes from Texas to Virginia. The Texas pros didn’t attend many PSS events last year, but UVA is much more central to the tour geographically this year, so it’d make sense to attend a few more meets.
DiRado fought off the desire to load up on freestylers – the national team has at least double the freestylers of any other discipline, and the names themselves look like great value in the later rounds. But with only one free starter per meet, anyone beyond the top 10 or so is highly-unlikely to ever start. DiRado drafted fewer freestylers than anyone else, trusting the combo of Nathan Adrian, Simone Manuel and Lia Neal to cover all five meets. Maybe geography fights that a bit (all three are based out of California and might be less likely to travel to the eastern-est of PSS stops), but it’s a smart strategy.
She also drafted a league-high 4 open water swimmers – that means she should have a leg up at Open Water Nationals, which will count for SwimSquad points. DiRado can only start 3, but should get big points from defending 10K national champ Ashley Twichell and 18-and-under 10K champ Michael Brinegar. And the big win is that by drafting four open water specialists, one team (stay tuned to see which) is without 3 viable starters.
Draft worries: low depth in back/breast
DiRado is loaded in fly, and also took some great late values in the IM. But that cost her depth in the back and breast, where she could very easily be without a starter at several stops. DiRado only has three breaststrokers, though all three (Cody Miller, Bethany Galat, Nic Fink) could be very solid options. Fink swam at 5 PSS meets and Miller 4 last year, but Galat only swam 2. If all three miss a meet – like they did in Columbus last year – DiRado is in jeopardy of taking a zero in breaststroke.
Same goes for backstroke. Murphy was reliable, swimming 4 stops last year. But the backup plan is Hellen Moffitt, who we categorized more as a flyer and who is heavily dependent on the 50 back being offered at all five stops. DiRado’s other two backstrokers (Nick Alexander and Phoebe Bacon) combined for zero PSS appearances last year.
- College alma mater: Stanford
- Picks from alma mater: 5 (10 available)
- Dirado’s discipline: IM
- Picks from IM: 5
DiRado stuck with her alma mater, taking four different swimmers from Stanford. That included IMers Eastin and Forde, despite having that slot likely filled for every stop by Kalisz. On the other hand, DiRado wasn’t afraid to draft rivals, taking four Cal Golden Bears as well.
Draft wins: good discipline balance, several high-upside new pros
Jaeger did a nice job of balancing out his squad, with pretty decent depth at most of the disciplines. But his biggest win was getting two potential stars who could shoot way up the scoring lists this year. Katie Ledecky is now a pro, so her 2 meets attended from last year could (and should) rise in a hurry. Ledecky is basically a lock to win the 400, 800 and 1500 anytime she swims, so she could have a Kalisz-like impact. That said, its hard to say how much she’ll prioritize this series, which is mostly based in the East and Midwest and constitutes some long travel journeys for a California-based swimmer.
Caeleb Dressel is the other potential star. Arguably the best male swimmer on the planet (for those who aren’t putting too much stock in an injury-limited summer of 2018), Dressel could be a regular 20-point play at free, fly, or flex. He, like Ledecky, is a new pro this year after attending just a single PSS stop last year. Florida pros don’t tend to hit that much of the PSS, and seem to swim pretty tired when they do. But Dressel is such a historic talent that if he and coach Gregg Troy want to make 2019 about the money, Dressel could rack up some big wins on the PSS.
Melanie Margalis is a great pick who can swim IM, flex or even breaststroke. IM depth is very questionable behind her, but she swam 5 of 6 stops last year (skipping only a Columbus stop that almost everyone skipped) and shouldn’t leave Jaeger in the lurch very often. Jaeger has Matt Grevers heading a group of five backstrokers, plus two of our top-tier breaststrokers (Andrew Wilson and Molly Hannis) with great depth behind them.
Freestyle is solid between Ledecky and Mallory Comerford, who competed at a surprising number of PSS events (4) for a college swimmer last year. Dressel could slot in there as well. And Jaeger has defending 10K open water champ Jordan Wilimovsky, who we rated as one of three top-tier open water options.
Draft worries: butterfly is shaky, top picks are high-risk
Jaeger only has two true butterflyers: Tom Shields and Sarah Gibson. Both swam in four PSS meets last year and had their ups and downs, but were pretty reliable scorers. With Dressel also a potential flyer (when the 50 is available), this isn’t exactly a glaring weakness. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jaeger struggling to fill this discipline at least once this season with all three absent. Comerford occasionally swims the 100 fly and could be an emergency fill-in.
Two of Jaeger’s top three picks are very high-risk. Last year, Stanford pro Lia Neal swam only 3 PSS meets – she’s the best comparison we have to Ledecky, who will be a Stanford pro this year. Only three appearances from Ledecky would cap her at 60 points for the series, which would be low for a first-round pick. Meanwhile Dressel might be a guy who you have to start (how do you keep the world’s best sprinter on your bench?), but who finishes middle-of-the-A-final for much of the regular season, if he travels to the meets at all.
Jaeger also has some real veteran presences at some of his disciplines (Shields in fly, Grevers in back, even Margalis to an extent in IM). If any of those swimmers starts to show signs of age, this roster could be in trouble.
- College alma mater: Michigan
- Picks from alma mater: 1 (3 available)
- Jaeger’s discipline: distance free
- Picks from distance free: 5
Jaeger took Wolverine Gabby Deloof, whom we had rated highly this season, but he missed the other two Michigan swimmers on the market. Outside of his three open water swimmers, Jaeger actually tended to take sprinters more than distance types. Ledecky and Meitz are his only two true pool distance swimmers, and he has seven freestylers who specialize in the 200 or below.
Draft wins: lots of lineup flexibility, stellar free group
Beisel certainly gave herself the most flexibility in assembling a starting lineup, much like last year’s runner-up CoughlinSquad. She’s got a handful of top-tier swimmers who could fill multiple starting roles: Hali Flickinger (fly, free, flex, even a spot IM start), Leah Smith (free or flex if she swims the 400 IM), Justin Ress (free or back if the 50 back is offered) and other versatile talents like Andrew Seliskar and Jack Levant.
The flip side of that, though, is that her free role should be regularly filled by top pick Zane Grothe, one of just two swimmers to appear in all six meets last year. That means Beisel should be able to cobble together a lineup that avoids zeroes, but might not use all those talented swimmers in their best roles.
The freestyle group is loaded, between Grothe and Smith, with fantastic depth behind them. Beisel got new pro Kathleen Baker to hold down the backstroke – we don’t know how much she’ll travel, but coming off a world record, Baker fits the Ledecky/Dressel role of someone who could far outpace their 2018 scoring. (She’s also a spot start in IM if need be).
We’re expecting a big year from Jay Litherland, who is a new pro in the post-grad program that had far-and-away the best attendance on the 2018 PSS: Georgia. (UGA pros Kalisz, Margalis, Smoliga, Fink and Flickinger averaged 5 PSS appearances each last year). He’s more slanted to the 400 IM, but was a productive scorer in the 200 on last year’s series.
Draft worries: thin in breaststroke, uncertain fly group
Beisel also took DiRado’s approach of sitting out the run on top breaststrokers, and faces the same potential pitfall. She didn’t waste a high-round pick on a discipline of depth, but also wound up with only three true breaststrokers on her roster. Kevin Cordes appeared 4 times on the series last year, and though he didn’t have a great summer, his training program was a bit in flux. Behind him, Will Licon only swam twice and Emily Weiss once on the 2018 series. Licon is a good bet if Texas rests its pros for a PSS stop again, but he’s much more of a 200 specialist at this point. Anytime Cordes isn’t present, Beisel could be in big trouble.
The fly group is deep, but pretty unsettled. Flickinger is a great swimmer whose value doesn’t translate well to this format. She’s great in-season, but tends to enter and scratch a lot of events at PSS stops. That makes it tough to slot her into any discipline. She’s also great at events across multiple disciplines (200 fly, 400 IM, 400 free) that make her an ideal flex play. The worry of starting her in butterfly is that she’ll drop the 100 fly and be capped at just 10 points if she wins the 200. But Beisel doesn’t have a lot of great fly options despite great depth. Katie Drabot only swam twice on the tour last year. Justin Wright is a new pro who could attend a lot of stops, but is pretty well confined to the 200 at this point. Kendyl Stewart didn’t appear on the PSS even once last year and neither did Jack Saunderson, who is still competing at the college level.
Beisel also only got a single open water swimmer, though she spent her 5th-rounder on that marathoner. Haley Anderson should be a productive pick in open water who could also fill in as a freestyler (in the weird scenario where Grothe, Smith and the rest of the freestylers are gone), but Beisel will almost certainly lose points to the field at open water nationals with no other swimmers to start.
- College alma mater: Florida
- Picks from alma mater: 2 (6 available)
- Beisel’s discipline: IM
- Picks from IM: 3
We’ll count Seliskar as an IMer in that 3 IMer count, still relatively low for Beisel, who was known for the IMs when she competed. She took two of the Florida swimmers available, with Dressel going one pick before her in the third round. Beisel also didn’t hesitate to use top pick on Grothe, a former SEC rival with Auburn, not to take UGA’s Flickinger or Litherland.
Draft wins: Stars in the strokes and IMs
Adams drafted perhaps the best flex play in the draft pool (Michael Andrew) with her first round pick, and still managed to get bona fide stars in all three strokes. After Andrew, she went after Kelsi Dahlia and Olivia Smoliga, who were highly-productive and ever-present on last year’s series. Both swam 5 of the 6 PSS stops and were regular high finishers in fly and back, respectively.
Adams then turned around and got top-tier breast/IM type Josh Prenot in the fourth round and still managed to get Lilly King (arguably the top breaststroker) and Gunnar Bentz after the early rounds. Prenot (4 stops last year including each of the first three) is a perfect breaststroke ‘handcuff’ – to use some fantasy football terminology – for King, who swam each of the final 3 stops after NCAA season finished. Maybe we’re too high on Bentz, who didn’t have a 2017-2018 season. But he was limited by a collarbone injury and is now a new pro in the same UGA system that has created outstanding PSS attendance.
That’s not even mentioning Jacob Pebley, who swam in five stops last year and is great insurance (or a potential flex play) behind Smoliga. Adams did a great job of filling out her stoke disciplines with multiple top-tier talents who complement each other well.
The open water roster is pretty good, too. Adams drafted four open water specialists including defending 5K champ Erica Sullivan. High schooler Mariah Denigan is on the national team roster as an 800 freestyler, but won the open water 5K 18-and-under title last year, so she could be a scoring option as well. Drafting four open water swimmers (and Denigan) left Beisel Squad with only 1 open water swimmer – a big advantage if it comes down to Beisel and Adams for the Swim Squad title.
Draft worries: weak in freestyle, thin in butterfly
The cost of building that kind of stroke group is freestyle. It’s a fair strategy – with so many freestylers on the board, there are great values to be had even in later rounds. Adams took Margo Geer with the 20th overall pick. Geer was present at 5 PSS meets last year and was solidly productive in the 50 and 100 – though things could get tougher there with Simone Manuel joining the professional ranks. Beyond that, the cupboard is pretty bare for Adams as far as top-tier freestylers go. Allison Schmitt is solid, but only swam 3 PSS meets last year and has to swim in a crowded 100/200 free field.
Michael Andrew, of course, could be the freestyler. But his 100 isn’t nearly the threat his 50 is, and so his scoring might be capped around 10 in free – that means giving up a potential 20 from him starting in the flex play with 50 free/50 breast or something similar.
The other spot free option is Kelsi Dahlia, who is usually pretty good in the 50 and 100 free mid-season. But the dropoff behind her in fly is scary. Zach Harting had shockingly good attendance last year for a college swimmer (side note: Louisville had the two best-attending college swimmers last year in Harting and Comerford), but still only made it to 4 PSS meets. He’s also clearly a 200-specialist who doesn’t really bother with the 50s and is probably only going to muster a few points in the 100. Beyond that? No one. The emergency plan is getting a 200 fly out of Bentz or maybe a spot start from Asia Seidt.
- College alma mater: Texas A&M
- Picks from alma mater: 0 (3 available)
- Adams’ discipline: Fly
- Picks from fly: 2
Interestingly, the flyer Adams only took two flyers, though she got the best one on the board in Dahlia. Adams also missed all three Texas A&M-affiliated swimmers. She did take her former SwimMAC/Team Elite teammate Micah Sumrall.
Steals of the Draft
Based on our rankings, here are the swimmers we placed in our top-tier (ultimately 25 pool swimmers) who were drafted outside of the top 20 picks:
- Lilly King – Adams Squad
- Molly Hannis – Jaeger Squad
- Jacob Pebley – Adams Squad
- Andrew Wilson – Jaeger Squad
- Mallory Comerford – Jaeger Squad
- Gunnar Bentz – Adams Squad
- Jay Litherland – Beisel Squad
Adams and Jaeger each got three of our steals, with Beisel taking one.
There’s still a long ways to go before the 2019 Pro Swim Series even begins, so it’s not ideal to make hard-and-fast predictions at this point. But early on, it looks like DiRado and Beisel are likely set up to be the teams to beat.
Last year’s competition ultimately came down to chasing 20-point performances wherever you could. Krayzelburg won by grabbing 20-point showings from Kalisz every month, with 15-20-point outings from Dahlia, Grevers and Smoliga pretty regularly. This season, DiRado and Beisel look best set to get regular 20-pointers without leaving too many blanks in the lineup. Interestingly, DiRado and Krayzelburg both had the #1 overall pick, which could either mean the way the national team breaks favors picking first and getting bookend picks in each round, or that #1 pick Kalisz is that much of a boost over the rest of the field due to guaranteed 20-point performances every meet.
DiRado: after a quiet summer, everyone is low on Nathan Adrian, but he’s been one of the most consistent in-season swimmers in history. Between Adrian, Murphy and Kalisz, Jaeger Squad should dominate those disciplines, provided DiRado makes the right call on flyers and breaststrokers, and Murphy doesn’t miss too many starts at backstroke.
Beisel: Grothe and Leah Smith might cut down on lineup flexibility if they hog the free and flex spots (much like they did for SandenoSquad last year), but if they consistently put up a combined 35-40 points, then that’s just fine. If Beisel makes the right starting calls on Flickinger to maximize her points, and if Baker attends a good number of PSS events, this seems like the team with the best chance to challenge DiRado.
Our SwimSquad predictions:
- DiRado Squad
- Beisel Squad
- Jaeger Squad
- Adams Squad