Chad Moeller remembers getting the phone call last summer around Memorial Day weekend. On the other end of the line was a friend of his, a major league manager who he knew from his own 11-year career in the major leagues as a catcher. The voice on the other end of the line said there was an athlete who was interested in transitioning from one sport to baseball, but as to who this potential player was, well, it was a bit of a mystery. But it was a project and one that he wouldn’t regret taking.
After Moeller had agreed to take on this project - only then would he learn the name of the athlete. Tim Tebow, of all people, would appear at the Scottsdale Batting Cages owned by Moeller. Tebow, the former NFL quarterback and Heisman winner at Florida, showed up to begin the transition from the gridiron to the diamond.
Today, Moeller believes that Tebow could be ready to be in the major leagues, potentially as early as this year. His assumption, he says is that “[Tebow] starts at Double-A” this season.
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After spending the fall with the New York Mets team in the Arizona Fall League, Moeller has seen Tebow’s growth and development. Having played in over 500 major league games, Moeller likes what he sees from Tebow and he sometimes marvels that a player who has not swung a bat in a competitive setting since high school has this much potential.
“Drastically better. He’s learning himself, he’s learning what he likes about his swing, he’s learning what works with his swing. He’s figuring himself out,” Moeller toldMetroin a phone interview. “I gave him a framework and he’s blending it into his own. He’s figuring himself out. He’s learning how to hit the ball in the air. He already knew how to drive the ball to all fields. He’s working at it so much and figuring out things so quickly and asking lots and lots of questions. It’s drastically better than it was at the end of the fall league. It’s getting smoother and less violent; it doesn’t look like he’s trying to rip things apart. It’s a smoother swing; it doesn’t look like it’s just force. It’s a true swing. It is one of those that after people see him, they are shocked.”
It has been quite a learning curve for Tebow in the fall league, who last played baseball his junior year of high school. Football was always his love and passion, and with programs such as Alabama, USC and Florida all recruiting him for football, he chose to be a quarterback. Now, after years away from the diamond, he’s eyeing a potential big league debut. The moment, of course, won’t be too big for Tebow if he eventually takes the field for the Mets.
After all, this is a former Heisman winner and twice a Maxwell Award winner, a two-time national champion in college who won a playoff game when he was a starting quarterback with the Denver Broncos.
“That (playoff win) was over my Pittsburgh Steelers,” said Moeller jokingly. "And that still bothers me.”
After a season with the New York Jets, Tebow also has an intricate understanding of the New York media, the unique crush of personalities and gotchya questioning that can overwhelm even the most savvy of athletes. He won’t be the typical rookie.
The question that remains, of course, is if he’s good enough to get there?
While Tebow hit just .194 in the fall league, Moeller is encouraged by the development of Tebow, who he continues to train out of his Scottsdale Batting Cages facility. There are times Moeller has literally had to take the baseball bat out of Tebow’s hand “because he’s doing too much.”
His work ethic remains beyond reproach.
“He can make adjustments faster than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Moeller said.
“I showed him an adjustment to make with his legs the very first day, he was able to do it; it took me four years to be able do that. And he just did it because of his body awareness, he’s a better athlete.”
That first weekend together last May, Moeller remembers thinking that Tebow “Could go right now and hit .220 in the big leagues” if he was plopped into that scenario. Now after fall league and offseason workouts, Moeller thinks Tebow has only gotten better if put on the Mets roster right now.
“I think it would be a slow start just because there’s going to be adjustments. I think he would then catch fire and end up hitting a fair number of home runs,” Moeller said.
“The biggest thing is that he doesn’t chase bad pitches very much. His plate discipline is very good for anyone, especially for someone who hasn’t played much baseball. And that gives him a good chance with the major league strike zone.”
And that call to the big leagues could come this fall when rosters expand in September.
“By the end of the year I could see it happening, absolutely. I definitely believe if there’s a chance it’s going to work, they want to see if it can happen. It won’t be as a gimmick or to sell seats, it’d be to help them,” Moeller said.
“As a hitter, you start to get hot and then little switches start to go off in your head, he can carry that forward and those jumps can be quick. There’s no reason they’re going to slow play this one because of his age. If at Double-A he gets hot and starts to put some balls in the seats that he gets moved up.”
When asked about a comparison to someone currently in the major leagues, Moeller chuckles and says “There is, but those are the ones you get in trouble for saying it. There is, but you have to start with those at the top of the food chain.”
Given this raw, innate ability, Moeller can’t help but wonder what could have been had Tebow decided to pursue baseball straight after high school or college instead of his shot at the NFL.
“He still considers it the biggest decision in his life and not 100 percent situation if it was the right decision. And that says a lot when you talk about somebody who won a Heisman Trophy and played in the NFL. Right? That’s pretty good standings,” Moeller said.
“I thinkif he went straight to baseball – and he learned a lot from football and become mentally tougher because of player – but there’s a chance we’re talking about a very special player.
“There’s not many people where you can line up those parts. It’s a unique group of people who have that unique combination of speed and power.”