So let's get something out of the way first: pitchers don't need a scouting report on Tim Tebow right now. He's a 29-year-old former college football star who's playing in Single-A minor league baseball where the average player is 21 years old.
At the moment, Tebow is hitting .218/.283/.364 with two homers, and although he ended last week with a couple multi-hit games, it's clear that he has not been playing well.
But Tebow has shown flashes, particularly in the first week of the season, when he hit two home runs against the Augusta GreenJackets, including one in his first at-bat of the season. It was typical Tebow: somehow finding a way to surprise us with his success, even if that success appears short-lived.
Pitchers have been trying to keep his success to a minimum, and though it's early in the former gunslinger's baseball career, there appears to be a consensus forming on how to approach pitching to the 2010 NFL first-round pick.
"Changing speeds is really effective," says GreenJackets pitcher Matt Solter. "I think for lefties, changeups are good. If you go hard in and then mix a changeup away, just to make sure it looks like a fastball as much as you can, you'll get some weak contact or a swing over a pitch."
Solter enjoyed success against Tebow in that first week of the season. He struck him out twice and induced two groundouts. GreenJackets pitcher Domenic Mazza, however, wasn't quite as lucky. Prior to giving up Tebow's first homer for the Columbia Fireflies, Mazza says he was hoping to work the former Heisman winner inside before leaving a hanging pitch over the plate.
"We were trying to establish in, but Tebow was able to hit a pretty well-located inside fastball off of my teammate," Mazza says. "I would still, as a left-handed pitcher, try to expand off the plate with the breaking ball away."
Part of the challenge (relatively speaking) of facing Tebow is the fact that, well, it's Tim Tebow in the batter's box. Tebow is arguably the most famous baseball player in America, and, combined with his football stature, he can be an intimidating opponent to face.
"I think anybody would be lying if they said they didn't at least acknowledge it a little bit. That's part of the pre-pitch," Solter says. "You clear it and, as cliche as it sounds, you attack him like any other batter and see how he reacts to different pitches and adjust accordingly to make some pitches and get an out."
The fact that Tebow isn't built like a typical baseball player also plays a role in how teams approach him at the plate. In theory, teams like to pound Tebow with inside fastballs because his frame doesn't allow him to turn on pitches as quickly as others do.
"There wasn't really a scouting report. The first day, we saw them take BP a little bit and we saw them stretching," Solter says. "You can tell, obviously, right away that he's a big guy. The power is going to be a real tool for him. Outside of that, there wasn't a whole lot we had on him."
"He's definitely bigger than most guys out here," Mazza says. "Just based off of that, you get the sense that he's going to have some power."
Mazza and Solter both laugh when asked about Tebow's first weekend against the GreenJackets, when he hit both homers.
"Everybody was just, I don't know if in awe was the right word, but I felt like that was a very Tebow thing to happen, for him to homer in his first pitch in instructs," Solter says. "There's something about the Tebow Effect that he was able to put a good swing on the pitch."
The chances that Tebow actually works his way up to the major leagues remain slim. He's already got a lot of things working against him—his age, that he hasn't played baseball since high school and that only a small percentage of pros actually make it to the show, for starters. But, for at least two of the pitchers that faced him, Tebow fits right into Single-A baseball.
"He hit those two home runs against us," Solter says. "I'm not sure what his stats are right now, but he doesn't look overmatched. He has a much better eye than we expected. We didn't know if he'd be swinging at everything, but he had a really good feel for the strike zone."
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.