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Alderson: I think Tebow will play in the Majors

MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Those who consider Tim Tebow's baseball experiment a joke, a distraction, are officially on notice. Yes, Tebow's doubters may not disappear anytime soon. He knows that his Minor League statistics are what they are. But the Mets are no longer willing to discuss the former NFL quarterback as anything less than a legitimate prospect.

General manager Sandy Alderson on Sunday gave his most ringing endorsement yet of Tebow's status in the organization, saying: "I think he will play in the Major Leagues."

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Those who consider Tim Tebow's baseball experiment a joke, a distraction, are officially on notice. Yes, Tebow's doubters may not disappear anytime soon. He knows that his Minor League statistics are what they are. But the Mets are no longer willing to discuss the former NFL quarterback as anything less than a legitimate prospect.

General manager Sandy Alderson on Sunday gave his most ringing endorsement yet of Tebow's status in the organization, saying: "I think he will play in the Major Leagues."

"That's my guess," Alderson continued. "That's my hope. And to some extent now after a year and a half, a modest expectation."

Tweet from @Mets: .@TimTebow has arrived in camp. #Mets pic.twitter.com/vLmXxk1VRN

What began 17 months ago as a curiosity at best, a publicity stunt at worst, has evolved into something far more legitimate. Tebow reported this weekend to his first big league camp, where the Mets plan to treat him no differently than Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce or any of the team's other outfielders. There is a chance that Tebow begins this year at Double-A Binghamton, just two steps from the Majors.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

So although Tebow stopped short of calling a big league promotion his expectation, he too is beginning to acknowledge its possibility.

"As an athlete, you always want to be the best you can, play at the highest level, win a championship, be the best," Tebow said. "If the best that I can be is in the bigs, that would be awesome. I believe in myself, and so I want to strive for that. But if that doesn't happen, then I won't look back and regret playing baseball, because I've already enjoyed it."

A former Heisman Trophy winner with the University of Florida and an NFL quarterback for the Broncos, Jets, Patriots and Eagles, Tebow began his Minor League journey when he signed with the Mets in September 2016. Competing in the Arizona Fall League that autumn, Tebow spent last spring in Minor League camp, though the Mets frequently borrowed him for Grapefruit League games.

Over the summer, Tebow advanced to Class A Columbia and Class A Advanced St. Lucie, hitting .226 with eight home runs in 126 games. While he never hit well enough to force his way up the Minor League ladder, Tebow showed enough marked improvement that the Mets felt comfortable pushing him to such heights.

Video: Tebow hits walk-off homer for St. Lucie Mets

That is why they invited Tebow to big league camp in Port St. Lucie, where he will compete against some of baseball's best players. Ever since the end of last season, Tebow has revamped his swing, despite spending much of his winter traveling to the Middle East and South America for foundation work.

"He benefits the Mets because of how he conducts himself," Alderson said. "He's a tremendous representative of the organization. We've been pushing him because there's a finite period of time for this to work. But his commitment to the game has been exceptional. So we're pushing him a little bit and he's here in camp not because he brings some notoriety. He's here because we want to push him a little bit. We think this is the best environment for him to get better."

Often defensive of the experiment, Alderson said Tebow was "phenomenal for Minor League Baseball last year," calling the notion that he shouldn't have a chance to compete "crazy."

Tweet from @AnthonyDiComo: Here are Tim Tebow's own thoughts on playing in the Major Leagues: pic.twitter.com/187hygMPQT

"We're going to evaluate Tim Tebow just as we would anybody else," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "I think Tim Tebow is here because he can potentially help us at the Major League level at some point. He wouldn't be here otherwise."

If Tebow does make it to that stage, he said, his broadcasting commitments to the SEC Network will not interfere. Tebow's other employers understand that baseball is his top priority, even if a segment of the fan base doesn't quite believe it -- and perhaps never will.

"My goal isn't about what's going to happen one day. My goal is to focus on this day," Tebow said. "I can't worry about one day if I'm going to play in the bigs or not. I got into this because I love it."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

New York Mets, Tim Tebow