Tim Tebow has said from the start that his maturation as a baseball player would be a process. That hasn't changed a mere 13 games into his first professional season, but the number of encouraging signs is growing for the former Heisman Trophy winner, who's impressing his manager, Jose Leger.
"He's starting to get his timing and rhythm down at the plate," the Class A Columbia skipper said. "He's worked really hard to find that timing and trying to understand he needs to get that foot down to be on time. Like any other player, he's had ups and downs."
Tebow notched his first career multi-hit game on Friday, going 3-for-3 with a double and a walk in Columbia's 5-0 win over Lexington at Spirit Communications Park. The perfect night at the dish raised his average 52 points to .208. The 29-year-old entered the night with two hits in his previous 18 at-bats (.111).
"Sometimes he's late and sometimes he's out in front," Leger said. "It's not easy for a guy who hasn't had that many reps and such little time in baseball. But tonight he was on time with every pitch. And he's so strong. When he hits the ball, he hits it well. It's like a missile. Good line drives."
Tebow singled to center field with two outs in the second and doubled to left off Royals No. 16 prospect Nolan Watson leading off the fourth. He worked a two-out walk in the fifth and grounded a single up the middle in the eighth. The double was his third extra-base hit and first since he smacked his second homer of the season on April 9. The walk, more than the three hits, impressed Leger the most.
"It's very important that he gets to understand the strike zone. Like anyone else, he needs to limit his chases at the plate. No question, he's working hard at doing that and trying to carry it over into the games. We'll see times where his timing will be off, but he's a great competitor and always trying," the manager said.
"Getting that walk was great -- showing that patience and not just going up there to swing, swing, swing. He's getting a better idea at the plate and knows what he needs to do to get better."
Video: Tebow gets third hit of game for Columbia
Michael Paez doubled, tripled and drove in two runs for the Fireflies in support of Merandy Gonzalez, who allowed two hits and struck out seven without issuing a walk over seven innings. The No. 14 Mets prospect has not given up a run in his first three starts, striking out 18 and walking one in 20 2/3 frames.
"His tempo is great and he's attacking the zone," Leger said. "He keeps getting that first hitter out and he's been in sync with his catcher every time out. He's mixing his pitches really well and throws so many pitches for strikes that it makes hitters overaggressive at times, and he takes advantage. He's a quiet kid with good composure that's showed me a lot. He's on a roll and it's nice to see."
Columbia is on a roll itself, and the presence of Tebow hasn't seemed to bother the club, which is off to a 10-6 start in the South Atlantic League Southern Division.
"He hasn't been a distraction at all," Leger said. "If anything, he's a normal player like everyone else here. You don't even notice him. He's very humble, blends in very easily and is enjoying his time here like anyone else. He definitely has some leadership skills and he's just trying to get better and move up to the next level."
Taylor Henry completed the shutout with two innings of one-hit ball. He struck out two and did not walk a batter.
Watson (0-3) was charged with four runs on 10 hits and a walk while fanning two in 4 1/3 innings for Lexington.