With 8 teams dropping players, that means 8 teams had to draft new players in the Shuffle Draft. After the Ranchers win in Newport following a substantial shakeup of their team and looking dominant, it already feels like owners are shifting to more a professional model of Major League Pickleball that is less kumbaya and more focused on winning. It obviously sucks for the players who get left out, but it is a zero sum game at the end of the day for these pros. As we did when the drops were announced, we’ll take you through the 8 players who have found themselves with a potentially golden opportunity for the $25K individual prize. Our analysis will be done in the order of how the Shuffle Draft lottery shook out.
#1 Female – Florida Smash – Lacy Schneemann
Schneemann was one of the female alternates in Newport and showed out when she was chosen by BLQK to play the semi-finals ahead of Rachel Rettger. After a slow start in women’s doubles with Irina, Schneemann picked it up in the second half of the match and overpowered Jardim/Padegimaite en route to victory. That momentum carried through to her mixed game with Zane Navratil where they steamrolled Rob Nunnery and Simone Jardim. Schneemann now is the first female chosen in the Shuffle Draft.
It’s hard to see power truly pop on video in pickleball but that was the number one most noticeable thing when watching Schneemann in Newport. Despite her raw power, with a 5.24 doubles DUPR, Schneemann does not have a lot of pro experience under her belt compared to most of the others in this event. Schneeman’s level of partners has been about what you would expect with her level of pro experience. Her notable results include a good run with Zack Taylor in mixed at the APP So Cal Classic, taking a game off Susannah Barr/Parris Todd with Christine McGrath, and losing 16-14 to Loong/Bright at the PPA OC Cup with Zack Taylor.
The Smash needed a female with more pop and Lacy should provide that. What is hard to understand is why Whitwell got cut over Esquivel if Schneemann was their target all along. Whitwell seems like the more ideal partner for a less experienced Scheemann rather than the roller coaster Esquivel experience. Michelle Esquivel has weapons in her game but the steadiness is not there like it is for Whitwell in both women’s and mixed. Remember, JW can make-up for that lack of pop in mixed too.
The running theme of this Shuffle Draft is that teams prioritized the unknown, but Schneemann highlights the possibility that the pendulum swung too far to the unknown. Our personal exposure to Schneemann is pretty limited compared to most of this field so the people who have played and practiced with her should know her abilities far better than us. The question we must ask is whether this 2-game performance for BLQK is overshadowing her overall, inexperienced body of work. Schneemann is probably the right pick for the Smash given their need, but we would not be stunned if the Smash had another disappointing MLP showing in Columbus.
#2 Female – Hard Eights – Cierra Gaytan-Leach
Once again, we are seeing the unknown products being chosen over the proven commodities. Lee Whitwell could have been a good fit here as well as Bobbi Oshiro, but the Hard Eights choose to go with Gaytan-Leach.
Cierra was a player we had in our top 24 prior to the initial draft and we had felt was a real option for some of these teams as a #2 female. Gaytan-Leach has more pro experience than Schneemann, but she is also not a full tournament schedule pro. She has a ton of talent and played well at the most recent Selkirk Labs Showdown. Gaytan-Leach’s pro results are up and down, but she did almost takedown Kovalova/Smith with Parris Todd at a PPA event earlier in the year. The raw ability is there but the jump in consistency, that can often be that chicken/egg question with a higher level of partner, has not been made yet. We’re not sure she provides the upside that you want when going with an unproven commodity. The other negative for Gaytan-Leach is that she is purely a doubles player. She has high level tennis in her background, but she is not a singles pickleball player.
She’ll pair with Kyle Yates in mixed and find herself in a brand-new partnership with Jorja Johnson. It’ll be fascinating to watch these new partnerships with the stakes so high. We are hard pressed to see this version of the Hard Eights find similar success than the previous version of this team, but we’re also excited to see how Gaytan-Leach fares in this environment.
#3 Female – Mad Drops – Lee Whitwell
Lee Whitwell is definitely a top 24 player so it feels right that she gets picked up by the Mad Drops. This should be a good fit for Whitwell too. Mary Brascia is used to playing the right but there’s no reason she can’t play the left. This team was going to struggle to win women’s matches no matter what so the mixed fit was more crucial than anything.
It has been a while, but Koller/Whitwell teamed up on a few occasions last year to some good success and surely that played a big part in this pick-up. It’s possible we see Koller/Whitwell and Arnold/Brascia as the mixed pairings. If they are able to steal a women’s match or two, it will be tough for opponents to get 2 wins anywhere else against this team. The Mad Drops could be a scary matchup if they can find their way into the winner take all, playoff format.
This means that NML favorite Bobbi Oshiro gets left out of MLP for a second time. We think Oshiro has suffered from the opposite of the Schneemann effect, which is that her poor showing in bad circumstances from a tiny sample size in Austin has held her back from being selected. Oshiro and Carr are the only free agents left that have a pro tour gold medal to their name. Austin Gridley got a lot of crap for losing in singles, but the other side of that story is that Oshiro is legitimately good at singles. It’s often fascinating to see how narratives get created. We will continue to believe it has been a missed opportunity for Oshiro not to be on a roster somewhere.
#1 Male – Chimeras – Gabriel Tardio
On the heels of a good showing in Newport, Gabe Tardio is the first men’s pick off the board for the Chimeras. We really like Tardio as a talent but the Chimeras still have the look of a middle of the road team. Tardio/De La Rosa will have playmaking ability, it’s just that the overall consistency will be a question. Tardio will likely team up with Megan Fudge in mixed, which should create an intriguing partnership as Koop/De La Rosa have been competitive together in both events. It’s hard to envision this team having enough juice to be competitive with the big dogs when all is said and done.
#2 Male – The Bus – Erik Lange
In our view, this was the dream scenario for the Bus. They made a trade that allowed them to form their version of the Ranchers female duo with Lauren Stratman and Susannah Barr. They proceed to drop John Cincola and secure the ideal men’s partner for the whirling dervish style of Wes Burrows. The Bus did not make our ‘5 Most Interesting Teams’ column but they are suddenly the #1 most interesting team in MLP.
There may be a few too many errors in the Burrows/Lange partnership but this is now one of the better men’s teams out there. The Hard Eights have Daescu/Yates, the Jackrabbits have Koller/Arnold and somehow BLQK’s Navratil/Hewett duo is right up there, but Lange/Burrows are right there with them. Lange is a #1 men’s doubles player even if he ends up on the right side with Burrows.
In mixed, we’ll expect this team to start with Stratman/Burrows and Barr/Lange, but no matter who you put Lange with you’re getting a high end #2 mixed team. Burrows was a waiver wire pickup, but he has #1 male mixed capability where his lack of consistency is less of an issue. We like the fit of Stratman with Burrows because there may be too much unpredictability in a Barr/Burrows partnership.
This team may be a bit vulnerable in a Dreambreaker, but we’ll stick with our guns that you want to form a team for the 4 matchups, not the possibility you may get to the singles crapshoot. Regardless of how this team chooses to match up, they should now be as much of a contender as any team out there.
#3 Male – Clean Cause – Federico Staksrud
Another continuation of the unknown commodity theme, the rising singles star gets his chance to prove his worth in doubles. There has been a lot of Federico buzz heading into this Shuffle Draft. We speculated on Twitter yesterday that the 5’s could be eyeing Staksrud due to his very close relationship with Simone Jardim, but Clean takes him before we could see if the 5’s wanted him.
We watched Federico play with Mario Barrientos at TOC against Callan Dawson/Tyler Loong. It was a competitive match, but Staksrud’s doubles game doesn’t look as ready as it needs to be in men’s doubles. He was also playing the left-side there and now he’ll have to get used to right with Dekel taking a whole bunch of court. The mixed transition is always easier for the tennis guys. The problem for Staksrud is that he is not going to have a higher end mixed partner to pair up with – it will likely be Maggie Remynse so we’ll see how that goes.
Staksrud is definitely a potential upgrade over whatever Joey Farias was giving this team. The gamble may have been necessary considering the female situation on this team, but we’ll see whether the gamble of the unknown pays off over more known commodities like Ben Newell, Eden Lica and Austin Gridley.
#4 Male – The 5’s – Ben Newell
Newell finally makes his way onto an MLP team and this should be a pretty good situation for him. It’s no secret that the 5’s have a strong all-around roster. In theory, Nunnery will be healthier and in better timing for Columbus, and either Padegimaite or Jardim are good mixed partners. The hard part to see in all of this is how Newell is an overall upgrade over Erik Lange. Sure, Newell played really well with Tyson McGuffin at the Selkirk Labs Showdown, but there’s not enough in his history that suggests he can provide more than Lange.
With the Lange move, the 5’s must be hoping they can get something equal or close to what Lange provides in men’s and any sort of upgrade on the mixed side of things. We’re not saying that is not possible with Newell, but we wouldn’t be betting on it. Even though we categorized this team as potentially being “good, but not good enough” before any Shuffle Draft moves were made, you have to remember this was a semi-final team with a pretty hampered Rob Nunnery (noting that Tardio played for Nunnery in the match to get to the semis).
With the benefit of seeing this all play out for the 5’s, it seems that the optimal move would have been to run it back with the hope that a healthier Nunnery improved their odds enough to push them into real contention.
#5 Male – Jackrabbits – Hunter Johnson
The lottery system sure can be unfair sometimes as the Jackrabbits get saddled with the last male selection but what a rise for Hunter Johnson. He gets a shot to participate in MLP when he wasn’t even in the running prior to Newport. Johnson will join Vivienne David, Adam Stone and Maggie Brascia.
We’re not sure what this team was supposed to do so why not go with Hunter. The Vivienne David connection had to impact this decision so we have to think there’s a pretty decent chance those two play mixed together leaving Stone and Maggie Brascia to partner up. Those pairings do not inspire a great deal of confidence but if Hunter ends up playing at a high level, maybe this team could be competitive?
Maggie Brascia plays the left with Mary typically so she should be comfortable playing with Vivienne, who is an exclusive right-sider at this point. If Maggie can be competitive playing with Mary, she should be more competitive playing with Vivienne. If Stone starts playing some leading up to Columbus, he is a very steady partner for a less experienced player to have.
That’s the most optimistic we can be for a team that has to be in the running to be one of the bottom teams once again. Draft season is always on the horizon though!
Notable Free Agents left out there are Rob Cassidy, Eden Lica, Hayden Patriquin, Austin Gridley, Stefan Auvergne, Brendon Long, John Cincola, CJ Klinger and Ryler DeHeart.
One final thought that is further to our Schneemann and Oshiro comments earlier in the post. We continue to wonder if teams are putting too much stock into the small sample size of the MLP events and are not looking enough at the entire resumes of players. With MLP being the only time many of the owners see these players in-person, actually playing, we think the owners may tend to put too much stock in the players performances at these events.
It’s probably how trades like Maggie Brascia for Jackie Kawamoto, who did not have a strong showing in Austin, happen. We have been beating the drum since the start that Gabe Tardio should be on a team, but it is not a coincidence that he and Lacy Scheemann, were the first man and women off the board after strong alternate performances in Newport. It is pretty fair to guess that Schneeman likely, does not get drafted if not for that Newport opportuntiy. If we were running a team next season, we would be looking to trade for a player that we thought underperformed relative to their ability at the first stop of the year, particularly if they were playing in a position that was not advantageous for their skillset.
Also, while we agree that teams need to be aggressive to try and make moves that put them in position to win it all, with the small round robin window to make the playoffs, some of these teams may have made too many moves, and created too many first-time partnerships, which may make it difficult for their team to gel in time for the playoffs.
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