John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Two-plus years into the Tim Tebow experience -- or is it experiment? -- the outfielder's most notable accomplishment in baseball circles has been turning widespread cynicism about his motives into blanket appreciation for his commitment.
After all, the former Heisman Trophy winner, and now TV star/football god in SEC country, has ridden minor-league buses all over the eastern half of the country for two seasons, making only incremental progress toward prospect status, and still Tebow perseveres.
And so even notoriously hard-bitten major-league scouts preface their harsh analysis of the player with praise for the person.
"In my mind he's already won," was the way one National League scout put it Tuesday, hours after the Mets sent Tebow to their minor-league camp. "It's incredibly difficult to do what he's done, so if he doesn't make it to the majors I don't see it as a failure. He's a great example of somebody who goes for it.
"He's going to go on to do bigger things. Maybe he'll be a senator, or a governor, or president. But he's put everything into this and you hear nothing but great things about him from people in the game. I don't know why anybody would want to criticize him for that."
Yes, the time and effort Tebow has put into baseball has largely changed the perception that he and the Mets were co-conspirators in some sort of publicity stunt when Sandy Alderson announced the signing in 2016.
Unfortunately for him, however, all that grinding in the minors hasn't changed the fact that it's hard to find someone in baseball who sees him as ever being good enough to justify a roster spot in the major leagues -- at least on a team contending for a playoff spot.
And not just because he turns 32 in August -- although that's certainly a major strike against Tebow.
No, it's also that, while three evaluators outside the Mets' organization I spoke with agree he has made subtle improvements at the plate, the bottom line is Tebow's lack of high-level baseball skills still make him a non-prospect.
"There's only so much he can do (to improve)," an NL executive said. "He's a really, really big guy. The nuances of the swing, of playing the outfield, and running the bases, are all difficult for him. His body just doesn't move like a baseball player.
"He will run into mistakes at times and hit the ball hard. He's very strong, with great athletic ability, but when you weigh 260 pounds and you're carved out of granite, the flexibility to make adjustments on different-located pitches, fastballs up and in, breaking balls down and away, it's harder to make those well-coordinated moves.
"He's more of a brute-strength guy with a swing grooved to a certain area -- he can hit a fastball down, middle-in, but not much else."
A second scout made the point that while Tebow's power might be considered his greatest attribute, it's not the type of home-run power that might give him a puncher's chance of becoming a big-leaguer.
"He has a one-plane swing that can hit a low fastball," the scout said. "He can drop the head of the bat on a down-and-in pitch, but even when I saw him hit the ball hard, I didn't see the backspin that power hitters have.
"I saw him hit line drives with topspin, which is not what you want from a power hitter. Now, it's possible that could change with a lot more work, but that's where the age comes in. The clock is running out on him already."
Furthermore, all three evaluators made the point that Tebow's biggest challenge is still ahead of him, noting that he hasn't played above Double-A yet.
"The biggest difference in talent is between Triple-A and the big leagues," one of the scouts said. "And it's not even close."
The other scout, a man in his 60s, made a similar point.
"Tebow's statistics in Double-A (.273, .338 on-base, .736 OPS) were better than I thought they'd be," he said, "but you have to factor in how watered-down the talent is in the minors now. The depth of talent isn't what it used to be, and the jump from Double-A and Triple-A to the majors is bigger than it's ever been."
Offense aside, the evaluators say Tebow doesn't have other skills that would make him worthy of a major league call-up. One noted that he's an "average runner once he's underway, but it takes him time to get underway."
Another noted that Tebow is a "below-average outfielder who doesn't catch or throw particularly well," though the scout couldn't help but note with an appreciative chuckle:
"I watched him dive for a ball in Lakeland the other day and the earth moved when he hit the ground. He gives you everything he's got."
With that in mind, Tebow has earned plenty of respect as he prepares for a third minor-league season. But the consensus remains that if he's going to reach the big leagues, it would have to be because the Mets want to reward him for his effort, not his ability.