SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Tebow is officially three steps from the Majors. The Mets announced Sunday that they are promoting the former NFL quarterback from Class A Columbia to Class A Advanced St. Lucie, their third-highest ranked Minor League affiliate.
Tebow was scheduled to play in his final game Sunday for Columbia, before reporting to St. Lucie on Tuesday.
"His recent last three weeks are actually trending pretty well," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. "Given all the other circumstances, age and so forth, we thought this was the right time to promote him."
Though Tebow was batting just .222 with a .651 OPS in 63 games for Columbia, Alderson said the team has been impressed with his increased exit velocity and isolated power, among other advanced metrics. More than a third of Tebow's hits have gone for extra bases, including three home runs.
Alderson also called Tebow an "outstanding" influence at Columbia, where he bought a pingpong table for the clubhouse and befriended many of the team's younger prospects.
"I think we're pleased with the first half of the season," Alderson said. "It's not like he's tearing up the league, but at the same time, all the indications are positive."
More than anything, the Mets recognize that at 29 years old, Tebow is an atypical prospect who must move rapidly through their system if he is to make a long-term impact. A Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida and an NFL quarterback for the Broncos and Jets, Tebow decided last summer to pursue a professional baseball career. Since signing with the Mets in September, he has appeared in the instructional league and the Arizona Fall League, in Major League Spring Training games and as a starting outfielder for Columbia, along the way rubbing elbows with big league players and elite prospects.
St. Lucie represents a new trial. The Florida State League is in Minor League Baseball's highest Class A designation. The next rung on the ladder is Double-A, where only a small percentage of prospects reach.
"I'm not sure how much of an additional challenge it will be," Alderson said. "But it's a step up. We certainly think he can handle it. ... We recognize that this is an unusual circumstance. But we just felt given everything involved, that this was about the right time for him to move to High A."
Aiding Tebow is the fact that Port St. Lucie, Fla., is home to the Mets' Spring Training facility and rehab staff, providing a support system unlike those at any other Minor League level.
Still, Alderson acknowledged that Tebow's early returns have been flawed, clouding his future. When asked about his long-term goals, Tebow typically demurs.
"I love what I'm doing," Tebow said last month in Columbia. "And when you have a chance to love what you do and you're passionate about it, it's fun. You don't wake up and go, 'Man, I've got to go face this day.' You go, 'I'm excited about this day.' And that's a good feeling."
Added Alderson: "I don't think about his ceiling. There was a chance that he would completely bomb in Spring Training. That didn't happen. I think his performance there justified assigning him to a full-season club. He went to Columbia. I wouldn't say that he's excelled there, but at the same time I think what he's done there given all the circumstances justifies the promotion to St. Lucie."