See you in September? The latest on Tim Tebow … and his possible Citi Field debut

The New York Mets promoted Tim Tebow to their St. Lucie affiliate in the Class A Florida State League on Sunday despite his underwhelming statistics in his first professional stop. He is expected to make his debut with the team Tuesday night.

Here’s a primer on what comes next for the former Heisman Trophy winner and major league aspirant.

Tebow was hitting only .222 when the Mets promoted him. Why would they do that?

Tebow turns 30 in August, so he’s not on the same timetable as a traditional prospect. The Mets started him out in the low-A South Atlantic League, and while he hardly mastered the competition, he didn’t embarrass himself either. He logged more than 200 at-bats after an 11-year absence from the game, and it’s time for the organization to challenge him with a better level of competition and see if he can take the next step.

Was this a baseball move or a marketing decision by the franchise?

A little bit of both, most likely. From all indications, Tebow has displayed a strong work ethic and been a good example to the younger players in New York’s system. In Port St. Lucie, he can have a positive impact on a new set of teammates and benefit personally from the perspective of a different coaching staff.

But the economic ramifications are hard to ignore. According to Baseball America, the average Florida State League attendance this season is 1,404 per game. The smallest crowd for any of Tebow’s 63 games in the South Atlantic League was 2,645. So Tebow is sure to make the cash registers ring at his next stop. In addition, the Mets own their Class A affiliate in Port St. Lucie, so they’ll realize an even bigger economic impact from Tebow-mania than the Columbia Fireflies enjoyed during his brief run in the Sally League.

What’s the difference between his old level and where he is now?

“It’s a more advanced game,” a minor league scout said. “The strike zone is more consistent. Pitchers can spin the ball better. Defenses are better and the game moves quicker.”

The jump from low Class A to high-A ball might not be as pronounced as the transition from high-A to Double-A ball, but a lot of players start to get weeded out at this level.

On a positive note, the bus rides are shorter in the Florida State League, and Tebow, a Florida native, already has spent time in Port St. Lucie during the instructional league and spring training. So maybe he feels a little more of a comfort level in this stop.

How likely is he to succeed in high-A ball?

It’s a stretch to think Tebow will go from hitting .222 in Columbia to batting .300 with an .800 OPS in the Florida State League. But if he can post similar numbers to the ones he logged in the South Atlantic League, it will be a net positive.

As general manager Sandy Alderson told reporters upon announcing Tebow’s promotion, the Mets looked at everything from Tebow’s chase rates to his exit velocity readings in Columbia before deciding to promote him. He’s such a project the team has to take everything into account in measuring his progress.

How many levels away from the majors is he now, and what’s the next step for Tebow?

Tebow is still three steps away from the big leagues. In a perfect world, he’ll have six good weeks in Port St. Lucie and the Mets can feel confident enough in his development to reward him with a cameo appearance for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies in the Double-A Eastern League in August. Short of that scenario, the Mets will be happy if he can sell some tickets and T-shirts in Port St. Lucie and perform well enough not to blow up the experiment entirely.

What would have to happen for Tebow to get called up by the Mets when rosters expand in September?

The Cincinnati Reds summoned Pete Rose Jr. for 16 at-bats in 1997, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented for the Mets to bring in Tebow for a late-season look-see. But the Mets might be pushing their luck. The fan base is already angry over this fiasco of a season, and Mets management would risk a major PR backlash and put Tebow in a difficult spot by promoting him to the big club this quickly after he has barely hit .200 in the minors. There are enough cynics who view Tebow’s foray into baseball as a cash grab and a circus without the Mets helping to feed the narrative.

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