Last year, the Phillies were spurned by their fifth-round draft pick, Oregon State pitcher Ben Wetzler. The junior left-handed pitcher led the team to believe he would sign with them if he were drafted, to the point where the team offered him $400,000 to sign. He ultimately reversed course and turned the team down, returning to college for his senior season.
Baseball America then reported the Phillies had ratted out Wetzler to the NCAA, saying he had illegally hired an agent to conduct contract negotiations with them. This is normal procedure for prospective draftees and is often overlooked by both NCAA and MLB officials.
Not so this time. Wetzler, as well as sixth-round pick Jason Monda of Washington State (who also spurned the Phils), were investigated by the NCAA at the start of the proceeding college baseball season on charges of improperly hiring agents as amateurs. And while Monda was not suspended, Wetzler was, for 11 games.
The narrative was that the Phillies, as retribution for being burned by these two college players, turned them into the NCAA, resulting in the investigation. The Phils were seen as small, petty and vindictive by many, and there were worries there would be long-term ramifications for the franchise because of their actions; namely, other potential signees would refuse to sign with the Phils.
"It has not hurt us a lick, because each guy is an individual and every player is different," Wolever said. "We’ve had nothing but good responses. I know a lot of negative publicity was drawn out of that. I realize a lot of people rushed to conclusions and judgment without knowing all the facts that went on, and we decided to stay out of it. It really was in the hands of the NCAA, so we let them do their job. We gave them the information they asked for and we let them do their job. As I said, to this point, we really have not had any problems with agents or players or families.
"You wouldn’t believe the number of people in professional baseball who have come up to me and our group over the course of the year and said, "Thank you for what you did, you guys aren’t the bad guys in this situation.’"
See, the Phillies were not villains. THEY WERE THE HEROES.
"Every year Major League Baseball sends out an email and asks specific questions about players that did not sign, who they were represented by, and people send it back in," he said. "Then it’s up to the NCAA whether or not they want to pursue it. That’s what we did. We sent the information in and left it at that and then it went from there.
"The NCAA did the investigation, not the Philadelphia Phillies."
This is where their argument falls apart for me. If the Phils were simply doing what every other team does at the end of every scouting season, why were no other amateur players investigated and/or suspended by the NCAA? Why just the two Phillies prospects that changed their minds and turned them down? If this truly was a process that was done by every team, every year, wouldn't there be lots of amateur players who were investigated and/or suspended by the NCAA every year?
Regardless, Wolever insists the Phils are not a bunch of meany-heads.
"We’ve always operated with integrity and we’ve been open and up front with kids and their advisers and we will continue to do so," he said. "We’ve got a tremendous reputation, always have and always will."
Everyone hopes that is true. It did seem to be an out-of-character thing for the organization to do. And hopefully, prospective draftees will not hold the Wetzler controversy against them this year, especially because this draft is so important.
The Phillies need to feel free to draft anyone and everyone available and hopefully haven't been warned by potential draftees that they would not sign with the team if selected.
It's fair to be skeptical of Wolever's claims. They just don't seem to hold water.