LOS ANGELES — Where this Tim Tebow Fantasy Camp ends is not in the major leagues. Not in Yankee Stadium, or Fenway Park, or heck, whatever they’re calling the ballpark in Oakland these days.
But judging from a sunny Tuesday showcase workout at the University of Southern California, he’s going to be swinging away for quite some time.
Why is he picking up a baseball bat for the first time in more than a decade at the wizened old age of 29?
“Because I love it,” he said after working out for two hours in front of representatives of 28 major league clubs. “Since I was four or five years old, the two things I’ve loved the most are, one, playing quarterback with 10 guys looking at you and depending on you to win a ballgame and, second, hitting a baseball.”
What you can see, easily, is this: an organization taking a flier on Tebow, sending him to Class A or even Double-A, because he’s an athlete, and he’s way strong, and he will be a positive role model to young prospects. And, if that minor league team happens to play in SEC territory, can you imagine the ticket sales? Cha-ching!
“I think he put a lot of work into it,” one veteran scout said after watching a well-practiced Tebow run a 60-yard dash, throw from right field, take fly balls in center field and hit for some 40 minutes. “But he doesn’t do anything easy.
“He doesn’t run easy. He doesn’t throw easy. He doesn’t hit easy. His bat is strong, but he had trouble making adjustments.
“I can see someone giving him a chance to go to spring training and maybe Double-A, but then you’re taking at-bats away from some 23-year-old kid.”
Tebow hasn’t played competitive baseball since his junior year of high school. Remember when folks thought Alex Rodriguez would find it impossible to produce in 2015 after sitting out one full season because of his suspension for performance-enhancing drugs? That was elementary compared to this.
The last time Tebow swung a bat in a baseball game, George W. Bush was president of the United States. It was 2005.
Which is probably why, in some ways, he exceeded expectations in front of the 46 scouts (some organizations sent multiple representatives) at Rod Dedeaux Field. The Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics were the only two clubs to pass.
“I can tell you this: He’s way further advanced than I thought he’d be at this stage,” one veteran (and previously skeptical) scout said. “Obviously, he’s crude. No question the biggest thing is his bat.”
Another said: “He shows power. He shows all the tools. He can run. He can throw. He has raw arm strength. It’s just not transferred to baseball.”
Tebow started his day with a 60-yard dash, clocked somewhere between 6.6 and 6.8 seconds, depending on which scout’s stopwatch you believed. On the MLB scouting scale that runs 20 to 80, it was a solid 60.
Though, as one scout noted about the sprint, which ran from center field toward the left field line, “The field is crowned, and they were smart; they had him run downhill.”
Next he took balls in right field, and for a guy who spent so much time at quarterback, he was not a natural with the throws. There were only a few ropes and several loopy throws. Fielding one bouncer in right, Tebow awkwardly took three shuffle steps before firing a throw to third base.
“He throws like a quarterback,” one of the scouts said. “You throw a football different than you throw a baseball. As a quarterback, you don’t spread your feet, and you throw the ball up. In baseball, you throw the ball down. Throwing to third, he should have had a longer stride.
“His arm strength is probably below average. Then again, a lot of guys playing in the big leagues throw below average.”
Which pretty much brings us to why both Tebow and the scouts were here: hitting. Tebow is enormous—6’3”, 255 pounds and sculpted, which was eye-poppingly accentuated by the spandex workout clothes he was wearing. The biography sheet distributed by his agent noted his low, 7.3 percent body fat.
He took several rounds of batting practice, crushing several baseballs well over the fence and into the trees over the Dedeaux Field scoreboard in right field. There was the big-time power that makes scouts salivate.
Then he took live batting practice against a couple of former big league pitchers, David Aardsma and Chad Smith. Here, he had no idea what was coming—fastball? slider? changeup?—and here was where he struggled. Batting left-handed, he swung late on several fastballs, fouling them away down the third-base line. And he swung way early on several changeups, sometimes fooled enough that he finished his swing with one arm.
Best-case scenario, he’s a project. A very big project. But former major league catcher Chad Moeller, who has been working as Tebow’s private tutor since May, spoke of how far his pupil already has come in three months. The biggest challenge, Moeller said, is pulling the bat out of the workaholic Tebow’s hands.
“Taking away his football mindset of more, more, more,” Moeller said. “At a certain point, you stop getting benefit.”
That statement speaks volumes: What’s going on, quite literally, is Tebow is trying to make up for lost time.
In many ways, he is still a neophyte baseball player trapped in a football player’s body. He acknowledges his knee-jerk reaction to work harder and more often than everybody else, and he held up his callus-covered batting-practice hands as proof.
His goal, he said, isn’t simply to make the big leagues but “to have a career in the big leagues.”
To that end, his agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, said representatives for five clubs stayed after the workout to meet with Tebow and get a feel for him personally. What they no doubt saw was a friendly, earnest guy who is drop-dead serious about making this baseball thing work.
Van Wagenen said his ideal scenario would be for Tebow to agree to a contract and start playing with an organization’s instructional-league team by late September. That way, he could quickly begin to assimilate into baseball, continue the process of refining his skills that started this summer and then perhaps play winter ball before heading to spring training. One source, in fact, told B/R that Tebow already has a slot this winter playing in Venezuela.
As for Tebow, he’s just working it one day at a time. And Tuesday, he copped to a ton of nerves.
“At the NFL combine, you’ve got your body of work for four years,” he said, not to mention dozens and dozens of other players performing for the critics. “Here, you haven’t seen me play baseball since I was 17 years old.
“There was a lot of pressure, a lot of nerves.”
Still, he said, it was easy to put aside the fact his baseball future was at stake Tuesday because baseball “is something I love and am passionate about, but it’s not my identity. When you have that mindset, it helps you to be free.”
His identity lately, since the Philadelphia Eagles sent him packing during training camp last summer, has been as a college football analyst for ESPN and the SEC Network and as a contributor to ABC’s Good Morning America. Besides, as he noted, he’ll be taking a pay cut to follow this baseball dream.
But while his motives seem pure, the game itself decides who stays and who goes. There will be a team that will sign him. Always, in these cases, there is someone. Some think that team will be the Atlanta Braves, given the combination of their rebuilding program (Tebow can be a positive role model), need for sluggers (see the trade for Matt Kemp) and location of many of their minor league affiliates right near the epicenter of the SEC.
Whoever it is, Tebow’s bat will dictate the rest from there. It’s all about whether he can hit as a corner outfielder. If he can’t, the Denver Broncos, New York Jets, New England Patriots and Eagles will not be the only professional clubs to say, “See ya.”
At this point, the most impressive thing in his game is his stamina (stronger men would have wilted before he was finished hitting after 40 minutes Tuesday) and his attitude.
“I want to be someone who pursues what I believe in, what I’m passionate about,” Tebow said. “People who ask what if you fail, guess what? I don’t have to live with any regrets.”
As far as life philosophies go, it’s difficult to argue with that.
And as far as hardball realities go, it’s also difficult to argue with the scout who told me, “The percentages obviously are against him making the major leagues. But he is Tim Tebow, and if he makes it, it would not surprise me.
“But it’s going to be a hell of a sacrifice for him for the next two years if he’s going to make it.”
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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