Twenty percent of his senior season. That was the punishment the NCAA meted out to Oregon State left hander Ben Wetzler for turning down the Philadelphia Phillies’ various overtures last summer and returning to play for the Beavers.
Thanks to being a pitcher, the 11-game suspension only cost Wetzler two starts and hasn’t hurt the Beavers on the field, where they’re 9-3 after winning three of four games with Wright State over the weekend. Wetzler made his first start of the season in Sunday’s series finale.
“I felt like a kid going out there to make his first start again,” Wetzler said after limiting the Raiders to one run on four hits in 7 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked one.
“The first couple of innings I was kind of amped. Case (Oregon State head coach Pat Casey) told me all week ‘You just need to control your emotions and do the best you can do to just be you and control your emotions.’ I was able to do that decent.”
Wetzler still isn’t commenting directly on the suspension – just the aftermath. He entered the season with the expectation of being the Opening Day starter. Instead, the Beavers succeeded with two road trips and using Scott Schultz, the bullpen’s saves leader in 2013, as a starter along with freshman Jake Thompson.
“This whole thing has been a troubling situation for Ben. Take baseball out of this and it’s just an unjust situation,” Casey said. “What he had to go through, nobody should every have to go through.”
Could it lead to change at the NCAA level? There is a clear discrepancy in matters relating to professional drafts in football, basketball and baseball. All three major professional sports have rules in place regarding when athletes are “draft eligible.” Only baseball does not require an athlete to either A) complete their collegiate eligibility or B) declare themselves for the draft.
Wetzler – or Washington State outfielder Jason Monda – didn’t have the choice of which team drafted him as the college baseball season neared its end last June. The Phillies submitted Wetzler’s name to Major League Baseball in the fifth round (Monda was taken in the sixth), and assumed he would forgoe his final season of college ball for a pro contract.
Athletes have the choice of declaring for either the NFL or NBA drafts. Baseball doesn’t give “draft-eligible” players a choice. Once they’ve finished their high school career they can be drafted. If they don’t sign and attend a four-year college instead, they become eligible again after their third year as a student or after turning 21 years of age. And the draft takes place as teams are playing in the postseason.
Wetzler, who sought professional advice about the contract offer, “did nothing wrong,” Casey said. “Our people here did the best they could. He had two outside attorneys representing him and I think they did a pretty good job.
“But you’re at the mercy of the court. He was guilty until proven innocent.”
The price for not signing a pro contract with a rumored six-figure signing bonus? Those 11 games, eight of them away from home.
That was particularly galling for a player who had made every road trip with his teammates since his freshman year. He drove his roommates — Zack Reser, Tyler Painton and Phillip Belding — to the bus for each of those trips.
“I’m happiest to be back out here with the guys,” Wetzler said. “It was tough to be here – I love Corvallis, but to have my best friends in Arizona while I was here? That was tough.”
Could the NCAA reexamine its stance on professionalism as it pertains to baseball players?
“Talking to (the NCAA) is sort of like talking to the IRS. You don’t get very far,” Casey said.
And that’s sad, because with athletes like Wetzler getting caught in the middle, with their integrity questioned because they chose to forgoe instant riches for one more year of college.