PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson has an answer for anyone wondering why Tim Tebow is in the team's major league spring training camp less than two years after he returned to the game after a 12-year absence:
Tebow is going to play in the major leagues and the Mets want to get him there as quickly as possible.
"Somebody asked me whether I think he'll be a major league player at some point," Alderson said after a Sunday workout at First Data Field. "I think he will play in the major leagues. That's my guess. That's my hope, and to some extent now after a year and a half, a modest expectation."
It's the first time Alderson has been that definitive about his anticipation of the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback's future, but he is pleased with the progress Tebow has made since the team signed him on Sept. 8, 2016. That's why Tebow was one of the 15 non-roster invitees who will work in the Mets' big league camp over the next six weeks.
"He's dedicated himself to improving," Alderson said. "Spent a lot of time in the offseason working with hitting coaches and so forth. So some people say, 'Well, gee, why is he in the major league camp?' I think realistically given his age, given where he started, he and we need to try and accelerate the process.
"This experiment, if you will, is not going to last forever, but he's made meaningful progress. We thought he would best benefit from being in major league camp. That would accelerate his development rather than falling back on protocol."
That's a lot of pressure on a player whose entire professional baseball experience consists of 126 minor league games split between Class A and Class A Advanced teams in 2017. Tebow said Alderson's prediction was nice, but he's not thinking about anything other than what he needs to do to improve.
"My goal isn't about what's going to happen one day," Tebow said. "My goal is to focus on this day and our outfield work, my training session, getting to know all the new coaches, and working as hard as I can. I think one of the important things about being an athlete is being able to lock in and have tunnel vision because 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. I'm passionate about it, and I think for me it's being able to lock in and have tunnel vision regardless of what team I'm on wherever they decide to put me."
Tebow said he spent the offseason working on his body and his swing. He said he's 12 pounds lighter, more flexible, and moving better than he did last year. He spent considerable time with hitting coaches -- as well as with Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy, his neighbor in his home town of Jacksonville -- and says his swing is freer, more aggressive and more athletic.
Having specifics to work on during the offseason has been a huge advantage, Tebow said.
"I think for me [the biggest difference] was going into the offseason knowing what I had to work on because [2017 was] my first time playing a season for 12 years, since my junior year of high school," the 30-year-old Tebow said. "So it was really going into the offseason where I could really make the changes. It's hard to fully make changes in a season when you're competing one night, you work on the next day, you compete the next night, so it's hard for those changes to really lock in.
"Going back, looking at all the changes that I wanted to make in every area of the game and then setting a plan of action of, 'OK, we're going to spend four weeks on this, six weeks on this,' and so we had a plan going into of what we wanted to get changed. You don't have to go compete that night, so that makes it a little bit easier to sink in."
Tebow said there were plenty of up and down moments last year. He hit .226 with 24 doubles, eight homers and 52 RBIs while playing for the Columbia (South Carolina) Fireflies and the Port St. Lucie Mets. He had raised his average above .300 in July but went 3-for-44 in August and also finished his season with 10 errors.
He says he now knows what to expect on a daily basis, and that has allowed him to have a clearer mind heading into spring training.
"I tried to go in open-minded, learning, knowing that I haven't played this game in 12 years and that I wanted to absorb as much information as I could, make the changes, try to improve, try to grow as an athlete -- not only physically and mentally in every different way that I could understand the game," Tebow said. "Instead of learning on the fly, now I get to have the chance ... to be able to react, and that always makes you a much better athlete."