The New York Mets announced a slew of non-roster invitees to major league spring training camp, including Tim Tebow, a noted bad baseball player. But it’s OK.
Non-roster invitees — NRIs, for short — are players not on the 40-man roster. It’s usually a mix of youngish in-house prospects and some veterans signed to minor league deals. Tebow is somewhere in the middle; at 32, he’s too old to be an actual prospect, though he came back to baseball late after playing three years in the NFL.
He’s also easily the most popular player in minor league baseball and more well-known than scores of major leaguers, which can’t be discounted. There are spring training tickets to be sold, after all.
"Tebow!!"— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) February 16, 2019
Pictures. Autographs. No doubt, Tim Tebow is a popular man at Mets camp. pic.twitter.com/zmnqxa6jQu
The common reaction to Tebow getting an invitation to big league camp — which also happened in 2018 and 2019 — is that he’s taking a spot away from a more deserving player. That’s fine, but I also wonder if that is really true. There isn’t a uniform limit on players teams can have in big league camp, other than perhaps the number of locker room stalls. Major league spring training camps usually start with more than 60 players, so we are getting well down the depth chart for a player Tebow might be robbing.
There are ancillary benefits to having Tebow around. At worst, his baseball teammates get to pick his brain about the Heisman Trophy, two national titles at Florida, and winning an NFL playoff game. Tebow’s usual fee for his various speaking engagements is between $50,000-$100,000, so at the very least, the Mets can use their in-house motivational expert at the mere cost of a spring invite.
Several accounts of his previous spring jaunts and minor league play have noted Tebow’s stellar work ethic and fearless attitude. His work ethic was even praised in 2019 as well, when Tebow put together one of the worst seasons in the minors.
Tebow hit .163/.240/.245 in 77 games for Triple-A Syracuse before his season ended six weeks early with a pinkie injury.
There were 334 different Triple-A players with at least 200 plate appearances with a team in either the Pacific Coast League or International League. Just five of them posted an OPS below .600, with Tebow by far the lowest at .495. Nobody else was worse than .533.
Tebow had the lowest batting average, lowest on-base percentage, and lowest slugging percentage among the group. He hit only four home runs in a season that saw unprecedented power, with a 57-percent increase in Triple-A home runs over the previous year.
It’s clear Tebow is not in spring training for baseball reasons. But spring training is long and monotonous, so I’m not sure it’s necessarily a bad thing to add a little excitement. Even of the artificial and commercialized variety.