Phils feel the heat as draft approaches

Posted: May 31, 2014

Fingers are pointed when franchises begin to fail.

Not my fault. Look at that guy over there. He's the one. He's the reason it's all going bad.

Charlie Manuel was the first victim of the Phillies' great fall in August, and with the team continuing to stumble through the first two months of 2014, the call for more front-office carnage has been loud and clear.

Fire Ruben Amaro Jr. is the reprise. Customer dissatisfaction has come in many forms, but sagging attendance is the one most likely to get the attention of team president David Montgomery and the ownership partners.

Amaro, however, is not the only decision maker around here who has come under fire. Marti Wolever, the man in charge of amateur scouting, was so well thought of two years ago that the Phillies added assistant general manager to his title.

Every chance the Phillies got, they pointed to Wolever as a major reason for the team's rise. He was the guy who wanted Ryan Howard in the fifth round of the 2001 draft when most scouts had dismissed the slugger as a swing-and-miss disaster. He was the guy who took Cole Hamels in his first official move as the scouting director. He was former assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle's main man when the Phillies were building the farm system that led to the franchise's second great era of baseball.

That era is over, and more finger pointing is likely on the horizon. That's what Amaro appeared to do during spring training, when the overblown Ben Wetzler scandal became the story du jour in late February. Wetzler is the Oregon State pitcher who had to serve an 11-game suspension at the start of this season after the NCAA determined he had used an agent in his negotiations with the Phillies after being selected in the fifth round of the draft.

The Phillies were blasted in the national media for cooperating with the NCAA investigation, which also examined their sixth-round pick, Jason Monda from Washington State. Monda was not penalized by the NCAA. Amaro steered questions about the incident to Wolever, acting as though the decision to assist the NCAA in its investigation was made by his assistant GM.

"I know they had agreements with both kids," a front-office official from another team said. "You have to make those calls before your top 10 selections and make sure you have agreements, and both those kids backed out. What happened after that wasn't just Marti's deal. You don't do something like that knowing it's going to create a firestorm without talking to your baseball operations people first."

Wolever, who is preparing for next week's draft, said he does not anticipate any fallout from the incident with agents representing players in this year's draft. He also said he heard words of praise for the Phillies' actions.

"You wouldn't believe the number of the 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,' " Wolever said. "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. It has not hurt us a lick.

"The only regret I have is taking players that had no intent on signing."

Wolever said the blame did not belong to the agent in this case. In fact, he said he was chased out of a hotel in Portland by an agent a half hour before the signing deadline. Presumably, it was Wetzler's agent.

"He's making a mistake," the agent said, according to Wolever.

"I said, 'He sure is,' " Wolever said. "'This is a good deal.' "

With that storm behind him, Wolever still has some heavy pressure in front of him. The Phillies pick seventh Thursday night, their highest selection since 2001, when they took Gavin Floyd at No. 4 overall.

The scouting director has had more misses than hits in the first round in recent years, with the poster children for failed first-rounders being Anthony Hewitt and Zach Collier. They were high-ceiling risks who aren't likely to ever play a game in Citizens Bank Park or the major leagues.

Miss too often in the first round and former is bound to go in front of your title. But it's easy to defend Wolever, and he did a pretty good job of defending himself.

"We never talk about the guys on the back end," Wolever said. "All people talk about is those first-round picks. Well, the draft for me is a hell of a lot deeper than that. We've had very good luck behind that."

This year's pick will be the Phillies' first in the top 10 since 2001. They went three years - 2003, 2005, and 2009 - without a first-round pick. The list of players traded away to help build around the homegrown foundation that won five straight division titles, two National League pennants, and a World Series is long. Some of those players - Jarred Cosart, Anthony Gose, Travis d'Arnaud, Jonathan Villar, and Josh Outman - are making contributions in the big leagues. Others - Jon Singleton and Domingo Santana - are on the verge of doing so.

J.P. Crawford, last year's first-round selection, sure has the look of a star on the rise.

It would help, of course, if Wolever and his scouting staff could hit on this year's pick, too. The Phillies' second golden era is over, and reinforcements are needed as soon as possible. There are also some itchy fingers within the organization. It would be wrong for any of them to be pointed in Marti Wolever's direction.


First-Round Woes

The Phillies, who pick seventh in Thursday's first-year player draft, haven't hit it big with a first-round pick since they chose Cole Hamels with the 17th overall selection in 2002. Here's a look at their history since:

2003: No first-round pick because of Jim Thome free-agent signing.

2004: Greg Golson, 21st overall.

The facts: .195 hitter in 40 big-league games.

2005: No first-round pick because of Jon Lieber free-agent signing.

2006: Kyle Drabek, 18th overall, and Adrian Cardenas, 37th overall.

The facts: Drabek was used to acquire Roy Halladay and has an 8-15 record and 5.37 ERA in 37 games with Toronto. Cardenas was traded to Oakland as part of the 2008 Joe Blanton trade.

2007: Joe Savery, 18th overall.

The facts: Waived by Phillies and claimed by Oakland during spring training this year.

2008: Anthony Hewitt, 24th overall, and Zach Collier, 34th overall.

The facts: Neither outfielder has advanced beyond double-A Reading. Both are struggling with the Fightin Phils.

2009: No first-round pick because of Raul Ibanez free-agent signing.

2010: Jesse Biddle, 27th overall.

The facts: In second season at Reading after struggling to consistently throw strikes last season.

2011: Larry Greene, 39th overall.

The facts: He has struggled as a professional and is on the disabled list at single-A Lakewood after wrist surgery.

2012: Shane Watson, 40th overall, and Mitch Gueller, 54th overall.

The facts: Watson showed signs of promise at Lakewood before undergoing shoulder surgery that still has him sidelined this season. Gueller struggled last year at Williamsport.

2013: J.P. Crawford, 16th overall

The facts: The shortstop has been one of the best players in the South Atlantic League in his first full professional season.


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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