Griffin Conine waits his turn at bat on deck at Nat Bailey Stadium.
The latest guest on C’s Chat is 2018 Vancouver Canadians outfielder and Northwest League All-Star Griffin Conine.
The 21 year-old native of Plantation, Florida has established himself as a force with the bat, the glove and the arm in his first professional season with Vancouver. Conine’s performance has not only earned him an All-Star berth in the Northwest League/Pioneer League All-Star Game but recognition as one of the top prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays system. MLB.com recently ranked Conine as high as 16th in its mid-season rankings before dropping to 17th after the recent trade deadline moves made by the Blue Jays.
The 52nd overall pick of the 2018 draft from the Duke Blue Devils says there are some notable differences between college and pro ball.
“College is a lot different. I loved Duke. I loved every minute there but at the same time, college baseball is just a different game. You play a lot of small ball. You got a very strict schedule. You got very little free time with class and everything.
Just coming to pro ball is a huge breath of fresh air. You got all this time to kind of do other stuff other than school and baseball. Being in Vancouver is awesome. I got a chance to see the city downtown. Really cool, always love being in big cities. It’s a real treat to kind of have my first pro ball experience being a place like this. Playing here at Nat Bailey, the crowd is unbelievable. That was not expected for my first Low-A pro ball season so I think that’s pretty rare what we have here. I’m really happy to be a part of it, to get to play for a ton of fans that love the Canadians. What more can you ask for?”
Before getting to Vancouver, Conine played in two games with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays. The two-time 2nd Team All-ACC selection says his biggest adjustment for him has been moving from metal bats in college to wood in the pro ranks.
“It’s been a pretty smooth transition, I’d say. I think the biggest thing is metal to wood is something that’s always different. You got to find a bat that works for you. I’ve been experimenting a little bit with that, trying to find a good one. I’ve gotten a little more comfortable recently. I’m starting to adjust just to pro ball life. It’s a lot more relaxed than college. You don’t have all these things scheduled out for you every day so you get a lot more freedom and time to get a routine going and I’ve kind of found that so it’s been pretty smooth so far.
I’ve ordered some Louisville Sluggers. That’s what my Dad used back in the day. I’ve just been using the Alomar bats that the Canadians have and they’re pretty good. They’ve been working pretty well. I like them but hopefully the Louisville Sluggers get in and I can start using those.”
Another adjustment for Conine was getting used to a whole new set of teammates.
“It’s always tough to have chemistry with a new team. I think that can be attributed to just a lot of guys were moving around also in the first seven, eight games. We got a lot of new players on the roster since then. Just finding a rhythm, getting to know everyone on your team. Getting to know like what works, what doesn’t. How well you guys work together.
Now we’re just having fun. It’s just all the pre-game jitters are gone. All the nervousness about starting pro ball and now we’re just kind of in the thick of the season and just having fun. We got a lot of really talented guys, especially the pitchers. The pitchers have been really good. We’re just having fun and winning.
No matter where you go. It’s a new team. It’s kind of weird being on from just one team to the next but you always want to win everywhere you go. It’s always more fun to win. You always want to be a part of a team that’s winning. It’s definitely good to get some wins.”
Griffin Conine and his Louisville Slugger look to do some damage at the plate.
One of Conine’s early season highlights was his first professional home run that cleared the 25-foot wall in center field at Nat Bailey Stadium June 28 against Tri-City.
“I knew I squared it up but everyone talks about how (the ball) doesn’t really carry here and how it’s tough to get one out. I didn’t think to that part of the park that it was going to go, I thought maybe off the wall so I was busting it down the line. It was nice to see it clear the wall and it tied the game up there in the seventh. Definitely a good time there for the first one.”
Conine is not the only high-profile prospect from Duke to play in Vancouver. Marcus Stroman was with the C’s in 2012 to contribute to their second straight Northwest League championship. Conine says he has crossed paths with the Blue Jays righthander.
“He was at our First Pitch banquet before the season. He was like our keynote speaker for this past year. He came down to Duke and we got to hear him talk about everything and gave a nice little speech. I saw him there and met him recently but since then, not so much. It’s definitely cool having another Duke guy in the organization and hopefully we can share the same field together some day.”
Jeff Conine and Griffin Conine on the field at Nat Bailey Stadium in late June.
Before being drafted by Toronto, Conine was taken in 2015 in the 31st round by the Miami Marlins from Pine Crest High School in Plantation, Florida. His father Jeff Conine was a member of the Marlins 1997 and 2003 World Series championship clubs and gained the moniker of ‘Mr.Marlin.’ The younger Conine says being drafted was an honour at the time but he knew he was not going to turn pro.
“That was kind of like a courtesy draft situation. Something that a lot of teams do nowadays when they know kids are going to go to college. They still like to pick them just to give them a draft day experience, kind of a preview if you will. They had one of the Marlins scouts call me and was like, ‘Hey, we just took you.’ It was pretty cool.
I got a lot of texts but at the same time you know a lot of people were confused because they thought if you’re drafted, you should automatically go to play professional baseball. I had to explain to a lot of people that I’m still going to college. And I think that was always the plan. My Mom and Dad really wanted me to go to school. I don’t think I was ready or mature enough to start my career that young. That’s why I picked Duke too. I wanted a good academic school and I knew I was going to go there so that’s why I committed there.”
The 2018 draft saw Conine experience a wide range of emotions before getting picked.
“It was a lot different there this year obviously just because the draft was coming up. In high school, I didn’t think much about it because I knew I wasn’t going to go and I knew it was going to be a while before I was actually going to go. This year was a lot different. I was really excited and kind of anticipating and nervous going up to it. You never know where you’re going to end up so that day is pretty wild. You get picked one pick later, one pick earlier, you could be halfway across the country.
I’m definitely happy I ended up with the Blue Jays. I didn’t know anything beforehand going in. My advisor texts me the pick before and said, ‘Yep, looks like the Jays. Pick (52).’ I knew 30 seconds before everyone else did. It was cool that my family was there and got to watch it. We had just won the regional against Georgia with my team at Duke so we all got to see it too so it was a really awesome and I’m glad everyone got to be there.”
Griffin Conine takes a healthy rip at a pitch at Nat Bailey Stadium.
There was speculation that Conine was going to be selected in the first round but a tough start to his junior season saw his stock drop. He rebounded with a strong second half to the season. Conine traces his struggles to the previous off-season.
“Mechanical changes. There were some things, some habits that I think I worked into just in the off-season that I kind of dug myself into a hole. My two-strike approach was not very good. Just making some small changes and gaining my confidence back that I had sort of lost throughout the year. All those changes I just kind of brought with me to pro ball here. I’m just still working on them, trying to fine-tune everything and always try to get better.
Yeah, definitely a tough start. A little bit of a slump but I’m just glad I worked through it. It got me here. It got me to Toronto and Vancouver and everything I’ve done up to this point so it all turned out good.”
Conine put himself on the scouting radar with his performance in the Cape Cod League in 2017. He says he really enjoyed his time there.
“It was great. That was probably the best summer ball experience I’ve ever had. Everyone says it’s an awesome place to play. You get to play for a lot of people in the Cape Cod. It’s a beautiful, beautiful place. That was definitely big. Everyone says the Cape Summer is kind of your most important as far as your draft stock and where you get chosen because it’s the premier wood bat league in the country. I think it was huge. I was pretty laid back that summer and pretty relaxed which I think helped a lot. I didn’t ever press or get into a slump. I think that summer was huge for me ending up here and ending up going as high as I did. I recommend it to anyone that can get a chance to play up there, it’s an awesome place.”
Griffin Conine has shown off a strong arm in right field with 7 assists in his first 30 games as a professional.
My thanks to Griffin Conine for taking part in this episode of C’s Chat. You can follow him on Twitter @Griffin_Co9. A thank you as well to Canadians Media Relations Assistant Sharlene Canning for arranging the interview.