2005 marked the best season of my minor league baseball career, batting .290 with 52 RBI’s and 63 runs scored (in 119 games) while serving primarily as a leadoff hitter and utility infielder for the Lansing Lugnuts (Low-A) of the Midwest League. That season, I was named the Lugnuts’ Offensive Co-MVP, was selected to the Midwest League All-Star game, and was named to the Blue Jays’ Top 30 Prospect List that offseason.
Despite those accomplishments, I did not experience a prototypical minor-league progression as older prospects (such as myself, who had already graduated from college), generally are pushed faster up the minor league chain. This allows organizations to quickly determine whether or not the player has a chance to impact the Big-League club in the future. Younger prospects require more time in order to fully evaluate and project their future, so for me not to be promoted spoke volumes about how the organization viewed me as a prospect.
In addition to playing out the entire season in Lansing (while my draft-class teammates were continually being promoted), I was not extended an invitation to the Blue Jay organizations Instructional League (a month-long development camp following the minor league season for the top prospects in the organization), and also was not selected by the Jays to participate in the Arizona Fall League (an offseason league comprised of the sure-fire Major Leaguers of the future). But thus was the life of a 25th-round pick whose signing bonus consisted of $1,000 and an airplane ticket to Florida.
Why do I bring all of this up?
Because despite hitting .220 and striking out in 30% of his at-bats over 64 games while playing at the same Low-A level that I did, Tim Tebow (who was roughly 7-8 years older than anyone else in the league) was promoted to the High-A level, and selected by the organization to partake in both Instructs and the Arizona Fall League.
I fully understand why the Mets have handled Tebow the way they have as they’ve already set minor league attendance records for the affiliates that Tebow has played for this season. Up until a few months ago, I remained steadfast in my claim that Tebow would never sniff the Big Leagues as despite his unique strength and athleticism, he was simply too far behind the rest of the competition to catch up. Oddly enough, after Tebow was promoted to the Florida State League (High-A), he erupted offensively, and if nothing else, forced me to rethink as to whether I should continue to doubt the same player who had proved so many wrong time and time again throughout this college and NFL career.
Let me start by saying that I love Tebow and have to utmost respect for passion, work ethic, and manner in which he conducts himself on and off the field. I know for a fact that I’m one of a select group of ex-minor-leaguers (I’m in a Facebook group with over 14,000 of them who discuss Tebow frequently) who thinks that what Tebow is doing, is great.
The majority of my peers, however, are angered by the fact that Tebow’s getting chances others (like myself) didn’t get purely because of his celebrity-status. Ex-players are also upset that Tebow is “stealing” the roster spot of someone who either might need the paycheck, or has put their dues in far more than the 1 season Tebow has.
I fully understand their gripe, but I think my opinion may have differed because I was realistic about 1) where I stood in the eyes of the Blue Jays organization and therefore, 2) my chances of reaching the Big Leagues.
When I was in Lansing, my hitting instructor, Charlie Poe, was the Birmingham Barons player who was demoted when Michael Jordan decided to take up baseball. I’ll always remember Coach Poe being irked at the situation, and while he eventually made it all the way to Triple-A, he never got the call to the Big Leagues. Was Michael Jordan the reason for that? It’s hard to say definitively, but it certainly didn’t help.
For the one or two guys who are in similar situations with Tebow, I can understand their frustration. They’ve worked their whole lives for this moment, only to have it jeopardized for a celebrity who wants to try something new after his previous career ended. But for the rest of us middling minor leaguers, the reality is that Tebow had no effect on our path (especially in the lower levels of the minor leagues) to the Big Leagues – a difficult realization for this large population of ultra-competitive baseball lifers.
Personally, I hope Tebow continues to develop and eventually makes a run at the Big Leagues. And the fact that he’s now hitting .270 with 5 homeruns and an on-base percentage of .340 in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League gives me more reason to believe that Tebow’s hard work and dedication (despite his newness to the game) justify him being considered more of a prospect now than marketing-ploy.
For people who have followed Straight 108 since its infancy, you know that the opinions I formulate in my blog are typically based on my experiences as a player and hitting coach. In this situation, as I have done so often, the basis for my analysis centers on video analysis of Tebow’s swing as it exists today, as well as the things he need to do to continue to develop into a Big-Leaguer. The reality is that Tebow is on the cusp of what’s widely regarded as the biggest talent leap in all 7 levels (yes, 7 – Rookie Ball, Short Season Low A, Short Season High A, Low A, High A, AA, AAA) of the minors – High A to AA, so needless to say, this is a pivotal state in his career.
In order to formulate a solid baseline comparison for Tebow, it’s necessary to find someone whose skill-set he profiles similarly to. After watching a couple of batting practice sessions and at-bats from the Arizona Fall League, Low-A, and High-A, I believe that the Orioles Chris Davis possesses the best combination of swing similarities and physicality in determining a course of development for the former Heisman Trophy winner.
The good news for Tebow – he possesses a mechanically-sound contact position in his swing.
In both batting practice and game footage, Tebow body alignment at contact is pretty solid. He maintains a solid foundation in which he combines back-leg drive into a stiff front side, allowing him to maximize his power from his bottom half. His upper half is tall to the ball despite an uphill-dominant swing trajectory, and he’s able to remain palm-up/palm-down with his hands through contact to provide the most force working against the ball as it enters the hitting zone.
The bad news is that the process Tebow takes to get to that point is a mess.
If we look at Tebow’s load (or his movement back towards the catcher to establish momentum forward), a number of significant issues are exposed.
The first, and by far the most glaring, is how far Tebow’s hands extend over his back foot. As a result, Tebow has locked his front elbow back (also known as an arm-bar), instantly eliminating his hands from controlling the bat as it generates power back through the ball. Generally speaking, this is one of the most common swing flaws I deal with from raw hitters who try to generate bat speed and power with their upper half, instead of their lower half.
In addition to Tebow’s arm bar, he has established an uphill path with his hips which dictates the path the barrel is going to follow.
Chris Davis has a similar swing-path to Tebow, but the difference is foundation is significant. Davis’ foundation is far-more athletic than Tebow’s despite Tebow’s superior overall athleticism. Davis has a near 50/50 weight split upon his load while maintaining an even hip level while Tebow has created an un-athletic base with an uphill hip-level. Additionally, we see Davis’ hands directly over his back foot, permitting him to stay short to the ball and utilize his hand-strength, whereas Tebow has already added a significant amount of length to the swing before it starts forward.
If we move ahead a couple phases (pictured above) to where the heel of the stride-foot plants into the ground (which serves as the catapult for the back-side to drive through), we see the difference between how Tebow’s lower half is supposed to be functioning versus how it actually does.
In keeping his hand over his back foot while his hips stay level and legs begin to fire, Davis is creating tension and torque in his midsection to drive the barrel through the zone. Tebow’s legs have not triggered at all while his hands are still working outside the width of his feet, forming an un-athletic base while the ball is already in flight.
In my opinion, Corey Seager of the Dodgers maintains the most mechanically sounds stride in baseball as everything about his foundation is based on simplicity, balance, and athleticism. Needless to say, the difference between Seager and Tebow in the same phase of the swing is significant.
Tim Tebow possesses elite athleticism, but without a solid foundation to swing from, his strength and athleticism are useless. If Tebow is going to continue to develop and have a shot at the Big Leagues, his ability to put his body in a position to utilize his incredible strength will be key.
Often times for young hitters, less is more, and I think the same goes for Tebow. As of now, Tebow is probably one of the strongest players in all of professional baseball, but he’s incapable of utilizing that strength on a consistent basis due to the inefficiencies in his pre-swing movements. If Tebow is able to take a page out of Corey Seager’s book, there’s reason to believe that Tim Tebow has only scratched the surface of his true potential as a hitter. However, as he was quick to find out playing the quarterback position in the NFL, incorporating mechanical adjustments aren’t nearly as easy as diagnosing them. Nonetheless, I’m rooting for Tebow and love him or hate him, he’s great for the game of baseball.