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Phillies Rat Out Prospect, Remain Mostly Silent

by Sean Begin

If the reports coming out the last few days are true, it may be hard to envision any future baseball draft choices wanting to sign in the City of Brotherly Love.

On Feb. 14, Oregon State left-hander Ben Wetzler was suspended indefinitely by the NCAA for “inappropriate use of a financial manager” in his dealings with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies selected Wetzler in the fifth round of last year’s draft. Wetzler did not sign the contract the Phillies offered him, which included a reported $400,000 signing bonus, instead opting to return to Oregon State to finish his senior year.

On Feb. 20, Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt reported that Phillies had intentional turned Wetzler and another prospect – sixth round pick Jason Monda of Washington State – in to the NCAA in November.

Monda was cleared to play by the NCAA the day before the college baseball season began.

The day after Fitt’s report came out, the NCAA released its ruling on Wetzler’s case, suspending him for 11 games, or 20 percent, of his senior season for contacting an agent.

The Phillies’ scouting director Marti Wolever issued “no comment” when asked about the situation. On Feb. 20 the Phillies released a statement saying they “did participate in the NCAA investigation,” but would not say how or what they did, remaining purposely oblique.

If the reports are true (and based on Phillies decision to not deny them, they seem to be) then the Phillies need to feel highly embarrassed. The organization turned in college baseball players simply because they chose to not sign with the team and return to school.

Philly will be lucky if any future prospect decides to even listen to an offer coming from management.

Some context is necessary here. Yes, Wetzler technically violated the rules by seeking representation, which goes against NCAA policy. But baseball prospects are different than NFL or NBA prospects.

In order for a college football or basketball player to be drafted, they must declare their intention to enter the draft, signaling to professional teams their intent to leave school.

College baseball players, however, do not declare. Teams simply choose players they want who meet age and school requirements, regardless of whether they want to leave or not.

So when Wetzler and Monda (who didn’t ask to be drafted by the Phillies) chose not sign to with the Phillies and return for their senior seasons, they were simply doing what was allowed through the process of the MLB draft.

Not to mention, as Fitt points out in his report, baseball prospects routinely seek council when talking with teams, because of the unusual process they go through. Teams simply ignore that they’re rule violations. It’s an industry standard.

In fact, the last time a player was reported for rules violations by a major league team was in 1992, when the White Sox executive Larry Monroe reported A.J. Hinch, who was drafted out of high school but chose instead to enroll at Stanford. Hinch was eventually cleared.

While what the Phillies did is really cowardly and spiteful, it’s not the true issue here. The rules that allow the NCAA to punish Wetzler are the real problem.

They’re meant to be used for those NBA and NFL prospects that have to declare. It’s why the rule is ignored for baseball. It’s a little irrational to think teenagers and twenty-something college kids should have to negotiate with the well-trained lawyers and negotiators for MLB teams.

The rules need to changed, so teams like Philadelphia can’t flip out like a six-year-old whose been denied candy in checkout line. Even OSU officials called for change, saying the “NCAA should take a serious look… toward revising rules on amateur status.”

While the Phillies remain a symptom of the larger problem, it doesn’t change the repulsive underhandedness of a multi-million dollar professional baseball team costing a college kid almost a quarter of his last college season.