We are apparently long past the point when Tim Tebow walking down the street is a story, so Tim Tebow trying a new sport — in this case, baseball — is a boldfaced, italicized, wile-away-the-final-days-of-August story.
But here, according to scouts who were on the ground, is one way you have to think of this entire operation Tuesday.
“First of all, you can’t get too critical,” said one scout from an American League team who attended Tebow’s workout at Southern California’s Dedeaux Field. “The guy hasn’t played the sport. And he’s definitely intriguing.”
We talked to several scouts about Tebow’s workout, which was conducted by his representatives at CAA Sports, including two who attended the event. The former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback, who is attempting to play baseball for the first time since high school at age 29, conducted his showcase in front of 46 scouts from 28 of the 30 MLB teams. (Yes, the Nationals did attend.)
It was set up much like a showcase for a potential signee from Cuba — the 60-yard dash, some work fielding balls in the outfield and then throwing to bases, a batting practice session and then a simulated game against two professional pitchers.
We’ll break it down thusly.
“Due diligence,” four scouts said in the days prior to the workout.
“He’s such an athlete, and has such a reputation as a person and a leader, you have to get your eyes on him,” one of those scouts said. “Maybe there’s something there.”
“I know it’s going to be a [expletive] show,” another said. “But you never know. Our job is to find major league players, and major league players come from all over, from all kinds of backgrounds.”
Tebow, the raw body and speed.
Tebow’s representatives distributed biographical material that listed the former quarterback as 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds.
“You look at him and go, ‘Wow,’ ” said the AL scout who attended the workout.
“He’s a physical dude,” said an NL scout who was also there. “He is chiseled beyond belief.”
The bio reported that Tebow’s body fat was around seven percent.
“I think they were light,” the NL scout said, using scout-speak for, “He probably has less body-fat on him than that.” “That’s how well-built this guy is. It’s almost too much. He’s built like he could walk out onto an NFL field right now and crush somebody. You can tell how hard he works at it, but he might want to slim down 15 or 20 pounds.”
Reports on Tebow’s times in the 60-yard dash were between 6.6 and 6.8 seconds — average to above-average for a major league player, several scouts said. And they were all in agreement on a point the AL scout made: “To run that well at that size is impressive.”
Tebow, as an outfielder.
One scout who watched clips of Tebow as they came across television and the Internet described his actions as “very bumbling. He looked kind of uncoordinated.”
The scouts on the ground were in agreement on a so-so assessment as a fielder.
“He’s got to play a corner, preferably left, because he doesn’t have the arm to play right field,” the AL scout said. “Maybe if you got him stretched out, the arm would be better. But it’s a below-average arm as is.”
“He was okay throwing,” the NL scout said. “Wasn’t great, but it was okay. The outfield play I would say was fair overall. He needs some work on that.”
Tebow, as a hitter.
One scout, asked before the workout what he would want to see from Tebow above all else, said simply: “freedom of swing.” Translation: They want a non-robotic swing that can adjust to the type and location of a pitch, that doesn’t have to hunt for balls in one area.
“The swing is uphill and it’s a grooved swing,” another scout said after watching the batting practice session. “That’s not good. It’s him not adjusting to the ball. This kid’s swing is identical every time, and muscle-bound.”
Still, reporters at the ballpark said Tebow sent five balls out of Dedeaux Field, including a couple over the scoreboard, during batting practice — which is thrown from in front of the mound, at about 45 feet rather than 60 feet, 6 inches, and doesn’t include 90-mph fastballs or any breaking pitches.
“He’s got some bat speed; he’s got some power,” the AL scout who attended the workout said. “It’s left-handed power, which is always good, and it’s a good feel in the batter’s box for a guy who hasn’t played much.”
The NL scout was more impressed.
“When he got in the cage, his power was evident,” he said. “He hit some bombs, just bombs. Talk about exit speed off the bat. It was amazing.”
Tebow then faced one pitcher, right-hander David Aardsma, who made 331 major league appearances as a reliever, and another, 26-year-old Chad Smith, who has bounced around the minors and has 12 big-league appearances. Fastball velocity ranged from 87-92 mph, and the pitchers were allowed to throw sliders and changeups, etc., as they saw fit.
“He hit a couple balls well,” the NL scout said. “He didn’t really pull anything, so they were getting him to inside-out pitches. He actually did better with breaking balls than I thought he would. He swung through some changeups and some sliders, but he made contact quite a bit, and some of it was pretty good contact.”
“I wouldn’t say he was great; I would say he held his own,” the AL scout said. “He did as good as you can expect a guy to do in that situation.”
Tebow, the conclusion.
“He sucked,” one scout from an NL team who didn’t attend the workout, but consulted with the scout that was there, said by text.
That wasn’t necessarily the impression on the ground.
“It’s one thing if the guy would’ve played three years of [Class AA] and he was released, and now he’s trying to come back, that’s one thing,” the AL scout said. “But this is a guy with no professional experience looking like he knows what he’s doing. That’s interesting.”
Several scouts pointed to Tebow’s age: 29.
“What’s the window?” one scout asked.
“He needs games and he needs to be willing to ride it out in the lower minors,” the NL scout in attendance said. “He’s not ready for the [Arizona] Fall League or [Class AA], or even A ball. He’d run into some real difficulties there. But he’s athletic enough, you go, ‘Wow, if he slimmed down and got some games and at-bats, what might happen?’ ”
That will be the question that needs an answer over the next several days. One scout said he would expect a team to take a flyer for, say, a bonus of around $100,000 and send Tebow to instructional league this fall. Another wondered if any club would want the inevitable sideshow that would come with signing him.
But the Tebow baseball experiment, according to a few who are paid to evaluate such things, almost certainly didn’t end Tuesday.
“I would say at least half of the teams that were here today would have some interest,” the AL scout said. “I don’t know to what extent, and I’m still processing my own thoughts. But at the end of the day, he’s interesting, for sure.”