Tim Tebow has a pair of intriguing tools in his raw left-handed power and his speed, and no one doubts his competitive makeup or his work ethic. While it's a long shot that he'll play in the big leagues after signing with the Mets on Thursday, it's a low-cost investment that comes with no downside.
After signing for $100,000 as a undrafted free agent, the 29-year-old former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner will begin his professional baseball career with three weeks at the Mets' instructional league camp, starting Sept. 18. Scouts with three clubs that had varying degrees of interest in signing Tebow expressed similar viewpoints about his strengths and weaknesses.
All three were on hand for Tebow's Aug. 30 workout at the University of Southern California, which was attended by 28 of the 30 big league clubs. He made a positive impression with his chiseled 6-foot-3, 255-pound physique, his speed in the 60-yard dash (a shade over 6.7 seconds) and the power display he put on in batting practice.
"He's a big, strong athletic guy who has great makeup," a pro scout with a National League team said. "Those are qualities we look for in any player, whether they're 18 or 29. I saw big raw power. It's a strength-based swing, but he's got above-average bat speed. It's just about seeing movement and the changing of speeds, and all that comes with at-bats. When he made contact, the ball jumped off his bat.
"It's going to be a tough thing, a big hill to climb. He's got to hurry up and get his at-bats. It's kind of like a crash course. He needs every at-bat he can get."
The biggest handicap Tebow faces is that he hasn't played baseball since 2005, leaving the sport to focus on football after his junior year at Nease High in Ponte Vedra, Fla. That's a lot of missed at-bats in the quest to recognize pitches and solve breaking balls. Tebow's inexperience also shows when he's chasing balls in the outfield, and his throwing mechanics need work.
There's no question that Tebow has a big league body, but the odds that he'll be able to make up for 11 years of lost time are long.
"His physical strength is off the charts," a senior scouting official with an NL club said. "There's a real 'wow' factor when you get up next to him and see how physical he is. How it translates to the baseball field? It's hard to move like you need to when you're that big and strong.
"I don't think Tim realizes how good even high Class A players are, let alone Major League players, [and] how long it takes to hone your skills to play at that level. For a guy who took 10 years off, a football player who's trying to play baseball, it's great. When you put the microscope on him and compare him to Minor League players and Major League players, it's not the same."
The senior scouting official said that Tebow's desire to continue working with ESPN's SEC Network this fall gave him pause. The Mets will allow him to miss three weekends to handle his broadcast duties, which also made a special assistant with a NL team wonder if he was totally dedicated to baseball. The special assistant marveled at Tebow's strength and athleticism, but he said that it will take more than that to make it to Citi Field.
"There's no question he has raw power," the special assistant said. "He was hitting the ball 450 feet in batting practice. Against live pitching, he competed on every pitch. Fastballs, he was making contact. Breaking balls and offspeed, he needs a lot of work.
"He has two above-average tools, but the rest of his game is very raw. The ball explodes off his bat and he competed. If he's 100 percent committed to baseball, he might have an outside shot."
Two pro scouting directors with American League organizations said their clubs had no interest in signing Tebow because they thought his baseball actions were stiff and his swing was too long.
Grading Tebow on the 20-80 scouting scale where 50 represents average, the consensus is that he's a 20-30 hitter with 60-70 raw power, 55 speed, 40 arm strength and 40 defensive ability in left field. He can improve his arm and defensive with more reps, and his ability to make progress at the plate ultimately will determine his success on the diamond.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.