Mets news: Tim Tebow will return for 2021 season, MLB debut looming?

Mets news Tim Tebow
Mar 4, 2020; Port St. Lucie, Florida, USA; New York Mets outfielder Tim Tebow (85) stands at the plate against the St. Louis Cardinals in the the eight inning at First Data Field. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Mets news: New York Mets outfielder Tim Tebow didn’t make his MLB debut in 2020, missing out on a full season of play due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the 2021 season drawing closer, Tebow isn’t giving up on his baseball dreams.

Tebow, who last played in a meaningful game on July 21, 2019, will enter his age-33 season. With the Mets now guided by new billionaire owner Steve Cohen, the outfielder is still pushing to play at Citi Field.

Mets news: Tim Tebow will return to baseball, targets 2021 MLB debut

Tebow received a spring training invite from the Mets before the 2020 season, even changing his number due to the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal. Tebow’s short stint in the spring went poorly.

Along with laughable mistakes in the outfield, he struggled at the plate. He posted a .154 batting average in the spring, striking out six times and collecting two hits in 13 at-bats. New York sent him down to minor-league camp.

Just weeks before the season was set to begin, MLB suspended play due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When it returned in July, the MiLB season was wiped out. Once that happened, Tebow and thousand of minor-league players were sent home for the year.

Already on the wrong side of 30 and coming off a disastrous 2019 season, it was a brutal setback for Tebow. But the 33-year-old former NFL quarterback made it clear he isn’t giving up on his dreams.

“I’m already behind the 8-ball in age and time and experience in all of these things, so of course it makes it harder,” Tebow said, via MLB.com Anthony DiComo. “But I think at the same time, I try to learn from every bit of it. And that’s all that we can do.”

While he drew some consideration for a roster spot under the old regime, things are changing in New York. Cohen is committed to building a winner, fielding a competitive team that fans will enjoy. He already made big changes, cleaning out the front office and the search is on for a general manager.

The Mets will be linked to plenty of big names this offseason, both on the trade market and free agency. Much of their roster could be in flux, with a new front office willing to trade off prospects or young pieces for a better shot at competing for the World Series. But, while the 40-man roster for the upcoming season hasn’t been decided, one decision has already been made.

So, with the MLB Rule 5 Draft coming up this offseason, the Mets will not look to protect Tebow. However, it doesn’t mean this is the end of his MLB hopes.

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Mets news: Will Tim Tebow be selected in the Rule 5 Draft?

The Mets won’t add Tebow to their 40-man roster this season, which would automatically protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. As a result, another team could draft him and add him to their roster for the upcoming season.

We saw flashes of potential from Tebow on the diamond in 2018. Across 84 games at the Double-A level, he posted a .273/.336/.399 slash line with six home runs, 36 RBIs and 32 runs scored. When he made the jump to Triple-A Syracuse in 2019, the jump in competition proved to be too much.

Across 264 plate appearances in 2019, Tebow was completely lost at the plate. He racked up 39 hits in 239 at-bats, posting an atrocious .163 batting average. He only got on base 24% of the time and struck out in 37.1% of his plate appearances. Once again, he also proved to be a defensive liability in left field.

Tebow was running out of time at the end of the season, only having a few short years left to live out his dream of playing in the majors. As we highlighted at the time, there were reasons for concern.

  • Across his first month of the season, Tebow struck out in 33.8% of his plate appearances and could barely manage to clear a .200 OBP with three extra-base hits and a .194 SLG.
  • He showed slight improvements in May, hitting his first home run and raising his OBP to .269 with a .250 SLG. However, he also struck out in 41% of his appearances – even against a position player.
  • Tebow’s season reached its lowest point in June, becoming the worst player in baseball. After 195 at-bats at the Triple-A level, he held a .154/.233/.231 with a 37% strikeout rate and only a 7.9% walk rate.
  • He started to figure things out in his final 23 games. Tebow raised his slash line to .215/.282/.400 in 65 at-bats with nine doubles and three home runs. Then he suffered a season-ending cut on his finger.

Given his absence of success at the Triple-A level, no one around the industry expects Tebow to be picked in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft. Even with the National League potentially implementing the designated hitter in 2021, the defensively-challenged Tebow is still unlikely to attract any genuine interest.

If every team passes on him, he will remain with the Mets and should begin the 2021 season with Syracuse. At that point, he should once again see time in left field as a part-time player, while being given a chance to prove he deserves more at-bats. If the pitching at the Triple-A level proves to be too much, the Tebow experiment could end.

If there’s one reason to remain hopeful, it’s president of baseball operations Sandy Alderson. He signed Tebow and predicted he would eventually reach majors. Given the limitations that could be put on fan attendance next season, depending on the level of access to a COVID-19 vaccine, the marketing appeal of Tebow at any stadium will be negated.

Tebow will likely get another shot this year, including an invite to spring training. If he struggles again in the minors and can’t make his MLB debut in 2021, it might be time for Tebow to close the book on his baseball career. At that point, he will be 34 and spending most of his offseason focusing on his charitable work and family. Even if he doesn’t reach the majors, sticking around in Triple-A is more of an accomplishment than many expected when he first signed.