Prospect Q&A: Marlins outfielder Conine
Even after establishing himself as one of the best power hitting prospects in the Minors, Griffin Conine put a lot of thought into what would make him a more complete hitter. Last year, Conine provided fans with an exciting race for the Minor League home run crown. His 36 long
Even after establishing himself as one of the best power hitting prospects in the Minors, Griffin Conine put a lot of thought into what would make him a more complete hitter.
Last year, Conine provided fans with an exciting race for the Minor League home run crown. His 36 long balls eventually fell short of Royals prospect MJ Melendez’s 41 homers. But what was concerning was Conine’s 47.4 percent strikeout rate and .176 batting average over the last 42 games of the season with Double-A Pensacola.
The Marlins’ No. 24 prospect returned to the Blue Wahoos for the start of the 2022 season and struck a better balance at the plate almost immediately. Through his first 60 games, Conine’s batting average (.265), on-base percentage (.379) and strikeout rate (36.8 percent) have all seen drastic improvement. His 13 homers so far aren't following the same ridiculous pace of last season, but his .877 OPS is actually better than the mark he posted last year.
Ironically, Conine and Melendez's fathers were both on the coaching staff at Florida International University last year. Mervyl Melendez stepped down at the end of this season after six years as the Cougars' head coach and Jeff Conine, the 17-year MLB veteran who was known as 'Mr. Marlin' after his eight years in the organization, joined the staff last June.
In the latest Prospect Q&A, the 24-year-old outfielder talks about how striving for swing efficiency led to the biggest adjustments in his approach. He also talks about the changes in the Marlins organization since he father was last with the team and last year’s home run race with Melendez.
MiLB.com: There are some clear differences in your numbers from last year to this season. How do you review the first couple months of 2022?
Griffin Conine: It's been a lot of fun. Honestly, we have a really good, talented group of guys. It's been cool just playing on a team that's toward the top of the league. ... [For me personally], there's been ups and downs. I think that's consistent with any season. I tend to be more streaky than I'd like, but at the same time, I feel like that was the difference between last year and this year so far has been being able to kind of turn around when you get cold and find out the tweaks you need to make to get back on track. ... I think as you get older, you become better at identifying your body and what moves you're making in the box and the swing and what works for you. I think the best players are still able to put up decent numbers, even when they're not feeling their best. That's what I'm trying to get, trying to find balance even when I'm not 100 percent on.
MiLB.com: How do you recognize the tweaks you need to make?
Conine: I'm really big on video. Most of us are at this stage. We have so much access, so I'm always comparing, always analyzing what I do when I'm good, and what I do when I'm not going well. I feel like when I'm moving a bit less, I tend to be more consistent as opposed to some guys that more of a leg kick and possibly even drift a little more in their load and still be able to do good things. I know that I'm more consistent when I'm still, but that's the funny thing about baseball. When you're too still, that's when you lose rhythm and you kind of fall into limbo. ... I think what usually fixes it for me is really committing to hitting balls off my back hip, seeing them deep. Any time I try to go get something or feel like I'm lunging at the ball, that's when I feel like the strikeouts kind of stack up and things start speeding up on me.
Watch out, moon!— Pensacola Blue Wahoos (@BlueWahoosBBall) June 18, 2022
Griffin Conine just hit a baseball out of the ballpark and possibly out of the earth's atmosphere. pic.twitter.com/HMo1k6dlho
MiLB.com: Does the increase in your average and OBP and decrease in your strikeout rate come from this approach?
Conine: For me, I'm a big feel hitter. I'm learning. I guess I wouldn't have thought that a couple years ago. But I think as I evolved and got older, I became a lot more in tune to what I need to feel, and what I do feel when I'm going well as far as like -- when I'm going really well is just a very instant and quick swing. I get my hands immediately to the ball, there's no lagging parts, and it's really easy to feel when that's not happening. ... I think plate discipline is a direct result of how efficient your swing is because then you can see [a pitch in] deeper. And when I have that instant quickness, I feel like I can see a pitch right up until it's crossing the plate. And that's how you lay off the really tough pitches. That's how you lay off the sliders that break at the last second, and that's how you lay off the fastballs that tail out of the zone.
MiLB.com: How did you determine that the swing efficiency was the issue that needed fixing?
Conine: Mostly it's on my own because the offseason we kind of have to ourselves. We do training here and there, team-oriented. But you have so much free time, and I just started more a couple years ago, I became obsessed with analyzing the swings of great players -- great players that have played in the past, great players that are currently playing. [Mike] Trout, [Fernando] Tatis Jr., whoever you want to throw out there, [Shohei] Ohtani. And then a lot of the older greats, Barry Bonds and all these guys that were kind of similar profiles to me -- power guys that wanted to lift the ball. And I watch what their body did pretty carefully, and as far as their lower half, how they stretch themselves, how they coil, how they load, seeing some kind of consistency into what they did. So, I figured out a few things that are better just kind of absolutes that are more general. Like, the sense that you have to stay back on your backside. That's always going to be true no matter who you are. You have to have energy stored on your rear leg, and that's the only way you're going to be able to hit a fastball and an off-speed in the same at-bat.
The minor league home run race was ON FIRE tonight 🔥— Farm To Fame (@FarmToFame_) August 5, 2021
7:22 | MJ Melendez (26)
7:47 | MJ Melendez (27)
7:48 | Griffin Conine (27)
9:12 | Griffin Conine (28)
9:34 | MJ Melendez (28) pic.twitter.com/xgOn9UfRpw
MiLB.com: Last year, you and MJ Melendez treated us to a fun home run race. What was that like to have that competition with someone you know well personally?
Conine: It was a lot of fun. I didn't think anything of it just because there are so many different leagues in the Minors. ... I just figured each person in their own league that led in home runs, there'd be their league's own winners. It's cool they also make it a big deal to say whoever has the most across all leagues, so I didn't realize that was a thing until I think we were both around 30 [homers], and that was maybe four or five weeks left. I hadn't really been following MJ super closely. I know he was playing really well, I know he was in a good place to possibly get called up. But once people started to take notice, it was a lot of fun. I remember there was one day, we were in Biloxi, and I had a pretty good series, so I had two homers [in a game], and I was checking Twitter after, and he also had two that night. They had the time stamps and we ended up going back and forth for all four of them -- I passed him, then he tied it back up and then it happened again that night. That's pretty unique and pretty fun. Especially when our dad's are working together at the time. A lot of fun, and he's a really great player to be as young as he is and be that advanced. He's been fun to watch for a long time.
MiLB.com: You mentioned your father. Is the allure of 'Mr. Marlin' still around the organization?
Conine: It's a lot different from when I was a kid. The ownership changed, and I don't know if there's anyone [from my dad's era] that's still currently involved. Throughout the staff, maybe a couple here and there. It kind of just feels like it's my team and my organization just because it's so different. Obviously, the history is still there and my dad did work for the team even after they did move to Miami. And I got to shag and hang around the new Marlins Park even when I was in high school. That was definitely cool, but at the same time pretty strange. Like, the fact that I was traded [from the Blue Jays in 2020], and I think a Draft workout was the last time I hit there. And then instructs last year, so I got to go back there. That was definitely a surreal, weird experience, just feeling like I was in high school and feeling like I was five or six years removed from that time. It felt like a year or so ago that I was doing that. It was always cool when generational players can remain under the same organization and hopefully I can make an impact at the Major League level like he did.
MiLB.com: What does a successful 2022 season look like for you?
Conine: I just want to see the walk rate continue to trend up and the strikeout rate continue to trend down. Obviously, I want to see other things. My power numbers are obviously a bit down compared to last year as far as homers, so we'd like to see those trend up, and I think they will. It's just a matter of time. But I really think if those two things continue to trend the way they are, the rest kind of sorts itself out.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.