Te­bow can draw crowds, but can he play base­ball?

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - RYAN RO­MANO

TAMPA — Here’s what we know about the Tim Te­bow base­ball ex­per­i­ment: He’s had his mo­ments — the walk-off home run against Day­tona, the leap­ing catch against Fort My­ers. He’s gone on hot streaks and, at times, has sparked the St. Lucie Mets. He’s drawn huge crowds wher­ever he’s gone, set­ting a few at­ten­dance records along the way. But as Te­bow comes to Tampa Bay this week, the base­ball ques­tion re­mains: Can he play? The an­swer is com­pli­cated. On of­fence, his cold spells have kept him low in the bat­ting or­der. On de­fence, his in­ex­pe­ri­ence shows. He’s play­ing with and against guys who were mid­dle school­ers when he won the Heis­man Tro­phy 10 years ago this sea­son. And with his 30th birth­day com­ing next week, he’ll need to get bet­ter fast. “Father Time is un­de­feated,” said one MLB scout, who spoke anony­mously be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss Te­bow. “(Te­bow’s) got a small win­dow to get a lot bet­ter.” Te­bow made a strong first im­pres­sion with St. Lucie. He wal­loped a two-run homer against Palm Beach in his sec­ond game af­ter be­ing pro­moted. Through 28 games, play­ing the out­field and des­ig­nated hit­ter, he was on fire, hit­ting .315 with a .400 on-base per­cent­age and .522 slug­ging per­cent­age. Pro­duc­tion like that would be im­pres­sive at any level. In the Florida State League — where the av­er­age slash line is .250/.321/.362 — it’s down­right in­cred­i­ble. “It’s ac­tu­ally re­ally re­mark­able that he’s been as good as he is,” said Jar­rett Sei­dler, a prospect writer for Base­ball Prospec­tus who eval­u­ated Te­bow in the South At­lantic League. “He’s done a lot bet­ter than I thought he would.” From the first show­case he held last year, when he launched mas­sive home runs dur­ing bat­ting prac­tice, Te­bow has shown an abil­ity to clob­ber the ball. One scout said he’s “got huge raw power. He’s su­per strong.” That’s not his only tool. Through­out his time in the mi­nors, Te­bow has also shown a dis­cern­ing eye, tak­ing 35 walks in 397 plate ap­pear­ances. Power plus pa­tience can be a dan­ger­ous com­bi­na­tion. “He has fairly de­cent pitch recog­ni­tion,” Sei­dler said. “He’s not go­ing up there and hack­ing away at every­thing.” Then there are the at­ten­dance numbers. At home, the Mets are draw­ing nearly 1,000 more fans per game with Te­bow than they were with­out him; they’ve al­ready set a fran­chise record for to­tal at­ten­dance. On the road, op­po­nents have seen their at­ten­dance dou­ble. But de­spite every­thing he’s ac­com­plished — the hot streaks, the homers, the sell­outs — Te­bow doesn’t have a clear path to the big leagues. Af­ter dom­i­nat­ing the FSL in his first run, Te­bow’s fallen off the pace. In his last 12 games, he’s just 5-for-45, which has low­ered his bat­ting line in St. Lucie to .248/.316/.416. The raw power is still there — in bat­ting prac­tice, and oc­ca­sion­ally dur­ing games. Too of­ten, though, Te­bow’s “stiff ” swing has pre­vented him from tap­ping into it, one scout said. “He’s got some bat speed, but it’s fair be­cause … he’s not loose in his ap­proach, in his stance,” the scout added. Along with the walks have come strike­outs — 104 of them across both lev­els of the mi­nors. Te­bow’s swung through plenty of fast­balls, and he “doesn’t re­ally see spin all that great,” Sei­dler said. Mean­while, Te­bow’s per­for­mance on de­fence leaves less room for op­ti­mism. While he’s made some high­light-reel catches, he also has seven field­ing er­rors in 591 1/3 in­nings in the out­field. His range there is lim­ited, one scout said. “He’s got a slow first step,” the scout added. “He looks kind of awk­ward out there be­cause of lack of ex­pe­ri­ence — it seems like he doesn’t read balls off the bat well.” And Te­bow’s arm has been, in Sei­dler’s words, “re­ally bad.” He’s recorded just one out­field as­sist, while com­mit­ting two throw­ing er­rors. Te­bow’s started 69 games in the out­field, mostly in left. Sei­dler said he’d like to see Te­bow spend more time at first base, where he’s yet to play this sea­son. Play­ers like this — “su­per-great ath­lete in A-ball that (the or­ga­ni­za­tion is) try­ing to teach how to hit” — aren’t un­com­mon, Sei­dler said. But most of them are in their early 20s and head­ing into their ath­letic primes, he added. Te­bow is al­ready there. While re­search on ag­ing curves has reached dif­fer­ent con­clu­sions, most stud­ies agree that hit­ters don’t im­prove once they hit 30. De­spite all the magic mo­ments that Te­bow has brought to the FSL, the con­sen­sus among tal­ent eval­u­a­tors is that he’ll have a hard time ad­vanc­ing fur­ther from here. “I ab­so­lutely love his mes­sage, I love who he is as a per­son, I love what he be­lieves in, and I love the fact that he’s shown kids that are younger to chase their dreams,” one scout said. “But from a stand­point of, ‘can he help our team win a World Se­ries,’ I do not see that hap­pen­ing. I do not see him mak­ing the ma­jor leagues as a pro­duc­tive player.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Tim Te­bow “has fairly de­cent pitch recog­ni­tion,” says Jar­rett Sei­dler, a prospect writer for Base­ball Prospec­tus. “He’s not go­ing up there and hack­ing away at every­thing.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Tim Te­bow has drawn huge crowds wher­ever he’s gone, set­ting a few at­ten­dance records along the way.

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