Tim Tebow has looked increasingly like an actual professional baseball player of late, improving his batting average to .237 — after topping out at .246 — thanks to 11 hits in his past 31 at-bats heading into the Columbia Fireflies’ Tuesday night game against the Delmarva Shorebirds.
Through 84 plate appearances over 21 games, Tebow, who hit .194 in the Arizona fall league, is second on the team with two home runs, third in total bases with 29 and is fifth in RBIs with nine. Still, the 29-year-old former football player is light years away from a major league call-up, and a respectable nine-game stretch at the single-A level is not exactly evidence that he’ll be joining the New York Mets — or even the high-A St. Lucie Mets — anytime soon.
Tebow’s numbers are more impressive than many expected, and are on par with or better than several players who went on to be MLB All-Stars. Obviously, there are other factors to consider when comparing Tebow to the game’s best: For starters, Tebow is nearly 30, whereas the typical single-A player can’t even legally drink a beer. Tebow’s sample size is also still quite small, and he’s just a few rough games from being back below the Mendoza line. (An 0-for-14 slump would put him at .200 on the nose.)
Nevertheless, there’s precedent for players of Tebow’s caliber going on to fruitful big league careers. So with that in mind, here’s a look at 12 recent All-Stars who looked a lot like Tebow during their debut run through single-A:
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Thought by some to be a Hall of Fame lock, Beltran didn’t look bound for Cooperstown during an 11-game stint with the Lansing Lugnuts in 1996. A second-round pick in 1995, Beltran went 6-of-42 to start his single-A career, earning himself a demotion to low-A Spokane for the remainder of the season. The following year, Beltran, then 20, continued his slow growth, posting a .229/.311/.363 slash line at high-A Wilmington. By the end of the 1998 season, though, Beltran had made his MLB debut, and for nearly 20 years since, he’s been one of the game’s most consistent hitters.
The Dodgers’ 25-year-old outfielder is still finding his footing in the majors, but his inconsistency at the game’s top level is nothing compared to his first couple seasons on the farm. An 11th-round pick in 2010, Pederson batted a ghastly .160 with no extra-base hits in 16 games with the single-A Great Lakes Loons in 2011. However, he raked following his demotion to the rookie-league — thanks in large part to the work of player development director DeJon Watson, who is credited with fixing Pederson’s swing — and after steady improvement in Rancho Cucamonga, Chattanooga and Albuquerque, he made his big league debut in 2014.
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After destroying the ball at the rookie-league level, the Royals’ catcher got a rude awakening as a 19-year-old backstop for the Burlington Bees of the Midwest League in 2009. In 127 at-bats over 36 games, Perez batted a measly .189 with a .466 OPS and knocked in just seven runs in the process. If there’s a bright side, it’s that Perez only struck out 15 times in that span, but it still feels safe to say that few had Perez pegged as a perennial All-Star at that point in his career.
Though not quite Tebow-aged, the Blue Jays’ third baseman was already 22 by the time he took the field for the single-A Peoria Chiefs during the summer of 2008. The former Auburn standout struggled during his stint in central Illinois, batting .217 in his first 235 at-bats. A catcher at the time, Donaldson was then shipped to the Oakland A’s in the deal that brought Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Chicago Cubs. He went on to hit .330 at high-A Stockton during the remainder of the 2008 season, and by 2010, he’d made his big-league debut — although it wasn’t until 2012 that he’d truly become a fixture at the major league level.
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The Orioles' outfielder and DH led the majors with 47 home runs last season, but while there were signs of power during his stint with the Cedar Rapids Kernels in 2006, it might have been difficult to peg him as a future home run king. In 118 games that season, Trumbo batted .220, socking a homer every 33 at-bats. His effort earned him another season at single-A in 2007 — he hit .272 with 14 home runs and 76 RBIs the second time around — but he tore the cover off the ball between high-A and double-A in 2008, establishing himself as a bona fide slugger, and ultimately made his MLB debut with the Angels in 2010.
The Giants' third baseman earned his first All-Star nod last season as a member of the Minnesota Twins, but in 2006, the then-Yankees prospect posted a slash line of .184/.223/.340 with the franchise’s high-A club in Tampa — and only improved marginally following his demotion to single-A Charleston, batting .227 in 90 games with the RiverDogs. The lone bright spot was Nunez’s speed, as he swiped 22 bases between the two levels, then stole 29 between Charleston and Tampa the following season.
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It’s hard to imagine Votto, one of the game’s steadiest and most disciplined hitters over the past decade, struggling at the dish, but the Reds star sure didn’t look the part of a career .311 hitter as a 19-year-old with the Dayton Dragons in 2003, hitting .231 with one homer in 60 games with the team. The notoriously patient Votto did show a good eye, walking 90 times between Dayton and his rookie-league stint in Billings, but it wasn’t until Votto reached his 20s that we got our first true taste of his potential at the plate.
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Like Trumbo, Napoli’s game didn’t scream ‘All-Star’ during his first stint in Cedar Rapids, as the then-19-year-old hit .232 and only went yard five times in 43 games with the Kernels in 2001. Also like Trumbo, Napoli required a second season at single-A — and he, too, improved, to a .251/.362/.392 slash line in 2002. But his strikeouts were still a problem (he had 158 Ks in 149 total games at single-A), an issue that hasn’t exactly gone away with age.
Since the start of the 2009 season, the current Mariners right fielder has hit 267 home runs and while the power was already there in 2003, the rest of his game was seriously lacking. At age 22, Cruz hit 20 home runs and drove in 85 RBIs for the Kane County Cougars, but he also hit just .238 and struck out 128 times in 119 games. Even today, Cruz still gets rung up a considerable amount, but when you’re coming off three consecutive 40-homer seasons, those types of problems are a little easier to forgive.
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A lifetime .236 hitter at the MLB level, the Phillies outfielder is one of the least accomplished current big leaguers on this list, but he was an All-Star for Toronto last year, nonetheless. Considering his career numbers, Saunders’ .240/.39/.345 slash line with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in 2006 may not come as much of a surprise — to say nothing of his 103 strikeouts in 359 at-bats that season — but it’s still rather impressive that he overcame that start to get this far in the first place.
A 15-year major league veteran, the Cardinals' infielder came from modest beginnings, batting .241 with just 17 extra-base hits in a full season with the single-A Columbus RedStixx way back in the year 2000. Much of that can likely be attributed to his age, however — the Dominican-born Peralta wasn’t even 18 yet when the season started — and his track record since has shown him to be more than capable at the dish (despite what his 2017 numbers prior to his recent DL stint might suggest).
Once one of the game’s brightest young talents, Phillips’ effort with the Cape Fear Crocs in 2000 was rather Tebow-esque. In 126 games, Phillips — then an Expos prospect — hit .242 with 11 homers and 72 RBIs. He also nabbed 23 bases, whereas Tebow has yet to steal a base with Columbia, so it’s arguable whether Tebow’s numbers so far are truly “better”. But if nothing else, the current Braves second baseman stands as yet another illustration of how an unremarkable start can ultimately lead to the big leagues.