The Toronto Blue Jays are making a habit of drafting and developing the sons of prominent former MLB players.
The most obvious is Vladimir Guerrero Jr., one of the top prospects in the game. Then there’s Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and even Kacy Clemens.
The most recent addition to the rather exclusive club comes via the 2018 MLB Draft, when the Jays selected Griffin Conine, son of longtime big leaguer Jeff Conine, in the second round out of Duke.
If you remember “Mr. Marlin,” it’s not hard to pick out his son walking across the infield following batting practice. Built of the same stock, Griffin, 20, has broad shoulders (6-foot-1, 200) and square jaw just like his old man.
One wonders if sons of big league players ever gets tired of folks reminding them they watched their pop play the game.
“I wouldn’t say old,” Conine said after early batting practice on Monday at Avista Stadium before the Vancouver Canadians played the Spokane Indians in the last of a three-game series – Conine’s first three games with the short-A affiliate of the Jays.
“It’s nice that someone has something to identify with. I hear it a lot,” he admits.
“It’s always a cool thing to hear when so many different people from different areas got to watch (his dad) play. Now they get to watch me play. I don’t think it ever gets old.”
Conine has ties to the Pacific Northwest – his dad was born in Tacoma.
“I told him I was going to Spokane and he kind of knew where that was,” he said. “He’s a little more familiar with this side (of the country) than I am.”
Griffin Conine went to high school in Florida and was drafted by the Miami Marlins – though he didn’t sign – then played for three seasons at Duke until this year’s draft.
It’s been a whirlwind for him since he heard his mane called in the draft on June 4.
“I got almost a week home after Duke, which was great,” he admitted. “Just kind of reset and relax. Get to see everyone.”
But you can’t keep a ballplayer off the field too long.
“By the end of that week I was itching to go back,” he joked.
The Jays assigned him to their Gulf Coast affiliate – for two games – then he met the Canadians in Spokane for the team’s third series of the season.
He hasn’t had much time to acclimate himself to anything with all the rapid-fire changes.
“Its just getting back into a professional approach and routine,” he said of his first week in pro ball. “It’s a lot different than college. You get a lot more time to figure out what works for you. It’s a lot more individualized.
“It’s just getting back into that kind of rhythm and experiencing wood (bats) and what works with me. I haven’t used wood since last summer. Things are starting to click again.”
Conine is 2 for 9 with a couple of hard-hit outs in his first two games in the Northwest League, but it was his defense that jumped out on Saturday as he raced back to the track in right and leaped to take away extra bases from Spokane’s Diosbel Arias.
Conine said he takes pride in his defense, though he will admit it’s still a work in progress.
“I wasn’t always an outfielder,” he said. “I didn’t start consistently playing there until my junior year of high school. I knew at Duke going in that’s where I was going to have a future.”
He said he didn’t play much his freshman year, so it became on-the-job training.
“I had a lot of energy to work on stuff like that outside of our games,” Conine said. “That stuff I worked hard on during BP.”
Conine said he’s always had a good arm, though, and likes to show it off when he can.
“I’ve always loved to throw guys out,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite things to do.”
Jeff Conine played several positions in the big leagues and his last couple of seasons was something of a super-utility, playing both corner outfield spots, first base and third.
Griffin said playing outfield has been a challenge.
“Nothing ever came natural,” he admitted. “I’ve always worked on getting better reads, getting more arm strength. Getting faster.”
When some guys get drafted out of high school they jump at signing a pro contract. For Conine, he readily admits he needed the college experience.
“I think it was essential,” he said.
“It’s really impressive when guys can go out of high school and have success,” Conine added. “It’s something I didn’t think I was ready for.”
“I think college was the right move for me for a lot of reasons. You gain a lot of maturity. College just gives you that three-year window to figure out your swing more, figure out your game more.”
Conine said college was beneficial to him in more than just baseball.
“Kind of just grow up, I guess you could say,” Conine added. “Enjoy being a college kid and you don’t have to get thrust into real life so quickly. The three-year period was definitely big.”
There’s a big difference in atmosphere and culture between the college ranks and professional baseball. Conine is just starting to learn the ropes.
“It’s definitely different,” he admitted. “At Duke, or wherever, you get so comfortable playing there, get to know everyone. Get to know your role on the team.
“And then you kind of have to go backwards. You have to get to know everyone as fast as you can, which is the stage I’m at right now.”
So he goes from “big man on campus” to one of the youngest guys on the team. Conine admitted there’s an adjustment period to figure out where his personality fits on his new team.
“It takes a couple of weeks, when you find out your role on the team – whether you need to be that guy that brings energy, whether you need to be a leader, or if they already have those type of guys.”
He said what worked for him at Duke might not necessarily fly within his new clubhouse.
“You can’t be that same confident leader guy,” he said. “I’m kind of in a different role now and that’s just the way the game is. I’m working hard to kind of find my role and get to know everyone on the team.”
Does being the big league club’s second round pick bring an assumed position of leadership?
“I don’t think so. I guess it’s different for everyone,” Conine replied. “I’m kind of young for my age. I think I’m probably one of the youngest guys on this team.”
Conine said his standing on the Gulf Coast League team was different than in Vancouver. But he was only there for two games.
“The GCL would have been different,” he said. “They have a lot of high school guys down there. And that’s different. They’re looking for leadership – for guys they can look to to guide them, being an 18-year-old out of high school.
“But then I come here and most of these guys are older than me, 22, 23, even 21.”
Conine thinks that at some point a natural pecking order develops and whether a player was a high draft pick or free agent signee doesn’t matter a whole lot. And many times, it just comes down to accumulated experience – something he admittedly is short of.
“I think its definitely different in the sense that you’ve got a lot of guys that are older than me that played for this team last year, been in pro ball for a year or two now.
“Those are the guys you have to look to for leadership. Regardless of (draft) round. They’ve just been around longer than I have.”
His pop played in the big leagues for 17 years, so he has some time to figure it out.
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