In August 2016, the baseball world collectively said “WTF?” when former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow announced that he was interested in becoming a professional baseball player. According to then-co-head of CAA Baseball Brodie Van Wagenen, “This may sound like a publicity stunt, but nothing could be further from the truth. I have seen Tim’s workouts, and people inside and outside the industry- scouts, executives, players and fans- will be impressed by his talent. As an agent, I have a genuine respect for how hard it is to succeed at the game of baseball and a true admiration for those who possess the talent to play it at the major league level. Tim’s tool set is real. His physicality is unique in professional baseball. His work ethic is unprecedented, and his passion for the game is infectious. He knows the challenges that lie ahead of him given his age and experience, but he is determined to achieve his goal of playing in the major leagues.”
According to former major league catcher Chad Moeller, whom Tebow was training with, “I am beyond impressed with Tim’s athleticism and swing, and it goes without saying that he has shown a high level of discipline and strong work ethic. I see bat speed and power and real baseball talent. I truly believe Tim has the skill set and potential to achieve his goal of playing in the major leagues, and based on what I have seen over the past two months, it could happen relatively quickly.”
Reviews of Tebow’s workout in front of baseball scouts and executives at USC’s Dedeaux Field was mixed. He showed impressive power during batting practice, but looked decidedly less impressive facing live pitching. “I thought he was OK. Better than I expected, to be honest. For not having played as long as he had, I thought he did OK,” said anonymous major league scout.
Tebow had not played baseball since 2004, his junior year of high school. While he was homeschooled, he was allowed to play team sports at Allen D. Nease High School, a public school in Ponte Vedra, Florida. Prior to 2004, he was a member of the school’s football, basketball, and baseball teams, but focused exclusively on football in his senior year. The move would pay off, as he would be recruited by the University of Florida, win the 2007 Heisman Trophy, get drafted by the Denver Broncos, and play in the NFL for three seasons. An All-State player, many believed that Tebow had been talented enough to become a professional if he focused on baseball, as the Los Angeles Angels had scouted him as a prep player. “”He could have been a good player, but everyone was well aware of him being a football player,” a National League scout who saw Tebow play in high school said. “He was a super competitive kid with right field tools. He just didn’t play enough. Against better pitching he wasn’t quite ready for it… He was a kid who had talent that was easy to see. If he had committed to baseball he would have a chance to be a good baseball player.”
After the workout, then-Mets GM Sandy Alderson said, “Are you insinuating we need a Hail Mary at this point? That’s not something we’ve given a lot of thought to. I’d say it’s probably unlikely, but that’s without any real information on his baseball background. So, we’ll keep an open mind.” He jokingly added, “Was he born in Cuba? OK, then our interest is probably not as high as it would be. We’ll make a decision on that. I don’t want to be too cavalier about it. Probably not going to have an impact on us in a material way in the next two months.”
In the end, the Mets were indeed the team to sign the former football player. “While I and the organization, I think, are mindful of the novel nature of this situation, this decision was strictly driven by baseball,” Alderson said. “This was not something that was driven by marketing considerations or anything of the sort. We are extremely intrigued with the potential that Tim has. He has demonstrated over his athletic career that he is a tremendous athlete, has got character, a competitive spirit. Aside from the age, this is a classic player-development opportunity for us. As an organization, we’re going to provide that development opportunity for Tim.” Alderson would later walk back those comments slightly, admitting that signing Tebow was partially based on the marketing opportunities.
“I know this is a tough game,” Tebow said of his future in baseball, “but I’m looking forward to putting in the work and I felt like this was the best fit.” He would add, “I’m excited about it. I really am. I’ve loved the game of baseball. Hitting a baseball is one of my favorite things to do in sports. I’m excited about the journey, the challenge, the difficulties, all of it. It’s going to be a lot of fun and it’s something that’s definitely exciting for me.”
The Mets assigned Tebow to the Arizona Fall League, and the converted outfielder performed exactly as you would have imagined, hitting .194/.296/.242 in 19 games. He was assigned to the Columbia Fireflies to begin the 2016 season and started the season off in typical Tebow fashion; a spectacle. Facing Domenic Mazza- the 666th player drafted in the 2015 MLB Draft- Tebow drilled a 2-1 mistake into left-center in his first at-bat. After hitting .220/.311/.336 in 64 games with the Colaflies, he was promoted to St. Lucie for the remainder of the season. He hit .231/.307/.356 in 62 games there, and hit .226/.309/.347 for the season, slugging 8 homers, stealing 2 bases in 4 attempts, walking 43 times and striking out 126 times.
Not exactly on a normal developmental schedule, the outfielder was promoted despite his performance, assigned to the Binghamton Rumble Ponies for the 2018 season. Almost 5,240 brave souls braved the 35-degree temperature on Opening Day, an increase from 4,680 on Opening Day 2017, and Tebow was a major reason why. In fact, Binghamton drew 220,279 fans that year, up from 190,765 in 2017, 172,859 in 2016, and 188,104 in 2015. Tebow, to his credit, did not embarrass himself in the 84 games he played that year. Quite the opposite, he actually thrived, hitting .273/.336/.399 with 6 home runs before having his season end prematurely after breaking his right hamate bone on July 19.
The outfielder was sent to Syracuse for the 2019 season, and while his promotion was based partially on his celebrity status, Tebow had earned it based on his 2018 production. Unfortunately for him, the Syracuse Mets, and the New York Mets, his first taste of Triple-A baseball was a bit overwhelming. Appearing in 77 games, the 31-year-old hit a paltry .163/.240/.255 with four home runs, his season coming to another premature end when a deep cut on his left pinky sustained while making an outfield catch took longer than anticipated to heal properly.
Tebow was invited to spring training in 2020 and was among the first players to be cut. He was slated to rejoin Syracuse for the 2020 season, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the season was cancelled. The 32-year-old outfielder was not cut when the Mets- and other major league teams- cut a significant amounts of players in late May. One of those players, Andrew Church, went on a diatribe shortly thereafter on his Instagram account, seemingly calling out the Mets for “a mockery of our team by putting a celebrity on it.” He would go on to say, “I saw players lose their jobs because of it. We weren’t playing to win, we were playing to make everyone else money. Not the players. We never saw a cut. Well, allegedly that one player did.”
While Church- who himself received a $850,000 signing bonus after being drafted in the second round of the 2011 MLB Draft- is certainly entitled to his opinion, they do not mesh well with the facts. The reality of the situation in Syracuse was that, because of a lack of depth in the upper minors, the majority of the 2019 Syracuse Mets roster was composed of major league/minor league veterans- Luis Guillorme was the only homegrown position player under the age of 25. One can quibble about whether or not he has been worth the $100,000 that the Mets signed him for, but the reality of the situation is that Tebow was no more or less worthy of being rostered than any other veteran player looking to play baseball.
Had COVID-19 not disrupted the 2020 MLB and MiLB season, there is a good chance that the outfielder might have been promoted to the Mets to contribute in some capacity. Thanks to a startling lack of outfield depth, Tebow is higher on the outfield depth chart than one would expect. Whether or not he would provide any kind of on-the-field value in whatever role he would’ve played is speculation, but regardless of how he fared, it would be must-see TV.