When he was promoted from the low-A Columbia Fireflies to the high-A St. Lucie Mets of the Florida State League in late June, Tim Tebow was the portrait of a struggling minor-leaguer.
Since that promotion, though, Tebow has been genuinely good — and he capped a recent run of form with a walk-off home run on Thursday.
That home run in the bottom of the seventh inning ended a double-header between the Mets and the Daytona Tortugas that also featured fellow former Gator Peter Alonso socking a game-winning dinger in Game 1.
Tebow’s homer, of course, was somewhat bigger news than Alonso’s.
Because he’s Tim Tebow, that home run made SportsCenter, and is one of the biggest headlines in sports today — during, it should be noted, the week of the MLB All-Star Game, routinely the most barren week of the American sports year. Because he’s Tim Tebow, we now have a comparison of the minor-league home run totals of multi-sport athletes from ESPN’s Stats and Information department.
After hitting a walk-off homer on Thursday, Tim Tebow now has more Minor League homers than several notable multi-sport athletes. pic.twitter.com/cWmdj5Bhre— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 14, 2017
And because he’s Tim Tebow, we’re paying attention to a minor-leaguer playing well at the high-A level — but, perhaps because he’s Tim Tebow, we’re not giving a 29-year-old player suddenly tearing it up in the minors after more than a decade away from organized baseball the proper level of awe.
Tebow’s on an 11-game hitting streak, and has hit safely in all but two of his games with St. Lucie. His triple-slash of .327/.421/.551 features marks that are the best by any player to suit up for more than 10 games with the St. Lucie Mets this year, and far and away better than the .220/.311/.336 line that he posted with Columbia — a reflection of sustained mediocrity at arguably the lowest level of the minors, and one which made his promotion puzzling except as a gimmick to goose ticket sales for St. Lucie.
Tebow was a mid-level player with the Fireflies, ranking outside the top five in all three triple-slash categories at the time of his promotion. Yet only a few players have been better with the St. Lucie Mets, even in short stints with the team, and some of those players — Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Conforto, Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores, Juan Lagares — are fully-fledged big-leaguers slumming it in high-A on rehab assignments.
Heck, Tebow’s stats right now are among the best in the Florida State League. If he qualified for seasonal statistical categories, Tebow would be second in batting average, first in on-base percentage, and second in slugging in the high-A league — and the player he would trail in batting and slugging is Brandon Rowe, a third-round selection in the 2015 MLB Draft.
This would have seemed absurd to say just three weeks ago, but: Tim Tebow is playing baseball well enough that he could be considered for a promotion on the merits of his baseball skills. That’s something I can’t imagine many 29-year-olds coming back to the game after an extended absence have achieved since the integration of the game — and it’s more impressive than what Michael Jordan, maybe the greatest professional athlete ever, did.
If — when? — Tebow cools off, that promotion he might get will be less justifiable based on his stats. And it obviously bears mentioning that 16 games of high-A ball is not quite a substantial sample size.
But Tebow is maybe the bright spot of the entire 2017 season for the New York Mets organization, which has paired a truly disappointing campaign at the big-league level with a lack of excitement in the minors. And if you think the Mets will be able to resist elevating Tebow even further in the minors and/or putting him on the major-league roster when those rosters expand, you have a much less cynical view of the world of professional sports than I do.
At the moment — like, right now — Tim Tebow is playing baseball better than virtually anyone at his level, after coming back to the sport about a dozen years after last playing it seriously.
That’s a cool story. Enjoy it while it lasts.