After the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the entirety of the 2020 Minor League Baseball season, young players were forced to fend for themselves. During that time, Marlins’ AA outfielder Griffin Conine relied on the expertise and guidance of one person.
“Just me and the pop.”
The father Griffin speaks of is none other than Mr. Marlin himself, two time World Series champion Jeff Conine. According to Griffin, he and Jeff threw it back to the days of when he was growing up tripping no further than the batting cage in his own backyard.
Months later, Griffin, his dad and his mother Cindy were reunited in Pensacola this weekend where Griffin was competing as the reigning MiLB home run leader. With mom and dad looking on, Griffin added to his home run total by going yard three times in three total at bats.
“They’ve had a lot of fun being part of such a cool environment,” Griffin said of his parents’ visit upstate. “And obviously it was cool to put a few out while they’re here, too.”
For Dad, not only was he treated to watching his son succeed, he was treated to a secondary special moment just before Conine’s first Sunday night homer. During Griffin’s first AB, the Blue Angels, flying out of NAS Pensacola, treated the crowd at Blue Wahoos Stadium to a full formation flyover.
“My dad, he’s a plane junkie. Fighter jets, he got to fly in,” Griffin said. “He was asking me, because he knows the the Naval base close by, “Do they ever fly over the field?” and I was like, “No, its never happened.” And then sure enough today, I heard people murmuring, they started to fly over and I was like, no way, they’re flying over!”
A pitch after the spectacle, Conine provided one of his own, depositing his 33rd homer of the year into Pensacola Bay. Three innings later, Griffin did it again, going to almost the same exact spot of the field for number 34. Opposite field power has been a regular thing for Griffin this season.
In fact, it’s been the most regular thing. In his 29 games in Pensacola, Conine has gone in that direction over 45% of the time. Before this season, at any level, he had never gone that direction more than 30% of the time.
“In college I can’t remember many ever going that way. That’s just the way my swing has developed,” Conine said. “Left center is kind of my money zone. “That’s where it feels the cleanest.”
According to Conine, aiming for where his power is easiest will allow him to begin to cut down on his strikeout rate.
“A lot of pitchers like to go away. They’ll show you in and that’s when I think I’ve gotten into a bit of trouble just because I’m so locked in going the other way that it’s kind of hard to cover both sides,” Conine added. “But that’s the way my swing works and when it’s going good, it’s effortless that way.”
Along with adjusting his approach, Conine is also adjusting to pitching at the AA level. His second multi-homer game of August came one month and one day into his tenure with the Wahoos and capped a three homer weekend. All month, Conine has face some of the top pitching development systems in baseball in Tampa Bay and Milwaukee.
“Montgomery especially, they have a very very specific plan on how to pitch guys. Biloxi, the same. Everyone has the ways they pitch guys and I think they gets more clear as you rise levels,” Conine said. “In Beloit they might have the same mentality but the guys aren’t as good at executing. Once you rise levels, they get really consistent with how they execute those plans.”
As an offensive player, Conine believes the trick is to avoid showing any weaknesses and being as complete a hitter as possible as he faces the same staffs so often.
“If you show them a hole, they’re going to hammer they hole in your swing and your approach and they’re not going to miss,” Conine said. “The best thing we can do as hitters is just to avoid showing them any holes and if we do early on in the series, know that that’s what they’re going to be coming after.”
A guy who spent time studying the inner intricacies of the swings of Barry Bonds and other top performers of the recent era during the shutdown, Conine has become the first Marlins prospect to hit 30+ home runs since Giancarlo Stanton in 2008. If he can hit six more in his last 24 games, he will become the first prospect league wide since 2016 to hit 40+. More importantly, he is learning to close avoid exposing weaknesses in his swing and to close them completely by swinging to his strengths.
Overall, the Marlins’ second-time draft target that avoided by one selection in 2018 only took join them for the rental of Jonathan Villar in 2020 is making himself right at home and then some with his hometown organization. The recently turned 24-year-old is working to become a more complete hitter. If he is able to drop his K rate and improve his batting average as he polishes off, he becomes a dangerous everyday threat at either a corner outfield spot where he has a great arm or as a designated hitter. Through recent work done and the support system he has around him, that ceiling is well within sight.