We now have the answer to one of the two major questions about Tim Tebow’s minor league baseball experiment.
After 64 games in Columbia, we have the statistical evidence that at age 29, he is not a major-league prospect.
What we don’t know is if he will continue to be the box-office smash he was in low-A Columbia now that he’s been called up to high-A Port St. Lucie by the New York Mets.
His showing in Columbia, though, provided no evidence he’ll ever make it in the majors. It’s not only that he hit just .220 with seven errors. That was enough to show a player wasn’t a prospect back in the day when I covered baseball before the NFL became a year-round beat.
But now there is a lot more statistical evidence that baseball isn’t his thing. Starting with Bill James and now with computers, baseball is the dream sport for computer-savvy types.
Baseball Prospectus tracks everything but how many practice swings a batter takes.
It turns out that only 17 corner outfielders in the last 12 years had worse low-A seasons than Tebow and played in high-A in the same year. And the average age of his teammates was 21. He’s playing with players eight or more years younger.
By the way, corner outfielder is another phrase like walk-off homer that was invented since I was covering the World Series. Who knew that Ted Williams, Al Kaline and Roberto Clemente were corner outfielders. We just called them great players.
And why did they call it low-A and high-A instead of A and B?
But I digress.
It also turns out that of the 77 low-A leftfielders to post seasons as poor Tebow’s, only one — Franchy Cordero of the Padres — ever made it to the majors. And he started off at age 20.
Still, when the Mets recently called Tebow up to Port St. Lucie, GM Sandy Alderson said he’s been improving and mentioned things like his isolated power, his swing and exit velocity. No mention of him from a marketing standpoint.
But at a meeting of more than 500 attendees at the 47th annual SABR convention at Citi Field on Friday, Alderson admitted they signed him for his marketing value.
“Look, we signed him because he is a good guy, partly because of his celebrity, partly because this is an entertainment business,’’ he said. “My attitude is, ‘Why not?’’’
Alderson admitted the person who scouted Tebow is a director of merchandise.
Saying Tebow was “unbelievable for the South Atlantic League in terms of interest and entertainment,’’ Alderson added, “We’ll see how far it goes.’’
The Mets figured Tebow has drawing power — and they were right.
If Tebow was a prospect, it would be a bonus. Unfortunately, he isn’t. Baseball America had a scout evaluate him after 25 games as a player and the report wasn’t positive.
The scout said Tebow has a “stiff’’ swing after 25 games, although he left open the possibility he may loosen up. And he doesn’t have good pitch recognition because he was away from the game for so long.
He also has above-average raw power and is average to slightly above average as a runner.
Surprisingly enough, Tebow goes through the motions at times, but the report excuses that because “nobody runs hard 90 feet all the time.” What would the old-timers think of that?
But the report says he runs hard and runs strong.
“You know what he is,’’ the report said. “You have seen him on TV playing football. He runs the same way. He’s an aggressive, athletic runner with a super athletic body. That is not going to translate (to baseball), especially after his body breaks down over 140 games in the minors. He is not going to be a ‘plus’ runner.’’
On defense, the scout said Tebow has choppy footwork and his first step is slow. He is not going to win a game with his glove and can get a team beat.
He also has a below-average arm with below-average arm action. That probably explains why he didn’t make it as an NFL quarterback. He doesn’t have enough zip on the ball. The talent Florida put around him in college made it possible to him to thrive without a great arm. In the NFL, it was a fatal flaw.
Ah, but his intangibles. There he is off the charts. The report says he has an “unbelievable makeup.’’
“You want your son to be him when he grows up,’’ the scout said. “He is the type of guy you want to have around young players. He is a plus in every department on the makeup side from his work ethic to who he is deep down inside to who he is as a teammate. He is just absolutely a good person.’’
The scout added that Tebow’s motto is “pursuing your dreams in any way possible.’’
“I tip my cap to him,’’ he said.
On the other hand, he said Tebow is a mid-level organizational player and wouldn’t recommend his team sign him.
“We try to scout to build a championship club,’’ the scout said. “He does not check those boxes for me.’’
The scout also said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Mets call Tebow up this September or next September as a “marketable public relations thing.’’
That brings us to the second question about Tebow.
Will the novelty of him as a baseball player wear off — or will he continue to attract huge crowds?
Baseball America reports he was the biggest star in the history of the South Atlantic League.
There are 14 teams in the league, and through his final game on June 25, one of every four fans who saw a league game came to see Tebow play.
Tebow increased attendance at road games by 2,591 fans a game, which worked out to an estimated $1.59 million to the other teams.
The Columbia team increased attendance 750-900 fans a game, so they made $600,000 on Tebow. The Columbia team didn’t get as big a spike because he played there more often.
Considering the Mets signed him for a $100,000 bonus, Tebow was an incredible bargain.
The Hagerstown, Md., team drew 22,578 fans for a four-game series with Tebow. In their other 30 games, they drew 29,081 fans — total.
On the field, Tebow is off to a good start in Port St. Lucie with five hits in 11 at bats in his first four games. He’ll probably drop off the more he plays.
But the real test for Tebow will be whether he can continue to put fans in the seats.
For his part, Tebow seems ready to keep playing as long as a team wants him. He doesn’t mind the long bus rides.
“I enjoy it every single day,’’ he said in an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” in May. “I think it’s so important to actually love what you do.’’
Minor leagues don’t tend to get invited on “The Tonight Show.” But Tebow is not your typical minor leaguer.
I do know one thing: If the Mets ever release him, the Miami Marlins should immediately sign him and send him to their Class AA farm team in Jacksonville. That’s his hometown, and he played for Florida in nearby Gainesville.
The Marlins made a mistake not signing Tebow when they had the chance. He would likely sellout every game in Jacksonville.
Tebow’s fans – he has seven million Twitter followers – don’t care how well he plays. They just want to see him play. For a big chunk of the country, Tebow remains a cultural icon who transcends sports.