We’ve learned several things about the early round draft preferences of the Mark Shapiro/Ross Atkins regime over the course of the last two years:
-this is a group that values production – numbers matter, particularly those with some strong context.
-character matters; the Blue Jays scouts spend a lot of time (years, in some cases) getting to know potential draftees and their make-up.
-track record is important: players who have had sustained success at high levels of the game are easier to project into the future. Under Shapiro, Cleveland was a very risk-averse team in the early rounds, and that trend has carried over. To be fair, the Blue Jays haven’t drafted a high schooler in the 1st round since 2012. Still, the Blue Jays took only 5 prep players (and only 1 Pitcher) with their first 25 picks. So, track record translates to collegiate players.
And there’s one more component that the Blue Jays value – genetics. On the excellent At the Letters podcast, GM Atkins told hosts Nicholson-Smith and Zwelling that the Blue Jays place a lot of importance on players with “windshields” – players who were passengers on their Dads’ trip through the Major Leagues.
When you watch a person (ie. your Dad) become star right in front of you, you realize they’re not much different from you, and it makes it more real. It’s one of the reasons why pedigree has value in the game – if you watch your Dad, and learn what it takes to become a great player…..it’s not intimidating. Often times players that are extremely talented that haven’t had that exposure come into an environment where all of a sudden (a player thinks) everyone’s as good as me or better…..can quickly demotivate (a player).
With that in mind, and given the success that prospects named Guerrero and Bichette have had, a very logical pick for the Blue Jays in the 12th spot is Duke OF Griffin Conine, son of former MLBer Jeff, also known as Mr Marlin.
Conine certainly checks the boxes for Toronto. After a slow to start to his career at Duke, he had a breakout season last year, posting a .971 OPS. Conine didn’t stop hitting when the college season ended, as he was named the Cape Cod League’s top pro prospect. Conine was named a preseason NCAA D-1 All American prior to the 2018 campaign. Not considered a top prospect as a high school senior, Conine’s work ethic has no doubt helped his prospect status climb to the point where he has to be considered one of the top three college OF prospects heading into June’s draft. And then there’s his Dad, a 17-year Major Leaguer who has a pair of World Series rings. In retirement, Jeff started taking part in triathlons, and had been serving as a Special Assistant to Marlins President David Samson before leaving the organization last fall, after incoming head honcho Derek Jeter offered him a less role with the team.
Jeff Ellis of Scouting Baseball and I had a lengthy chat about players the Blue Jays might be heavily scouting in advance of the draft, and Conine’s name was a part of that discussion. In his most recent mock draft, Ellis has Conine going to the Jays:
Conine shares a birthday with Ryan Rolison, making him one of the younger juniors in this class. He has a long track record of performance and bloodlines that will make him move up boards. He is unlikely to be a star, but I see a player who should be worth 3 to 4 wins for many years. He is a complete player and the youth and relative safety make him a perfect fit for the Jays.
Maybe that’s not a ringing endorsement or a prediction of future first division stardom, but Conine would indeed be a very good fit with the Jays. He can play all three Outfield positions, although his speed is not his greatest asset, and RF appears to be the best spot for him. Because of his high OBP skills, Conine led off for his Cape Cod team last summer. Conine works the count well, but he does tend to have some swing-and-miss because of his power – he had a 25% K rate last year. Conine gets significant torque and loft with his swing, but he gets good plate coverage, and uses the whole field. I did not come across this in any reports, but his bloodlines probably suggest a high Baseball IQ.
Veteran scout Ted Lekas of 2080baseball.com gave this analysis after seeing Conine last summer:
Athletic right fielder with plus bat and power potential; good, sound approach at the plate from a slight open stance; good balance; plus bat speed with quick hands and quick wrists; plus barrel control, barrels up balls and projects as a plus hitter; present strength; loft and leverage to all fields, projects to plus power; below-average run; did not produce home-to-first run time; above-average arm strength (55) with good carry; average defensive actions; tools to be above-average major league regular contributor.
The reports all seem to project Conine as Logan Warmoth with more power potential. If the Blue Jays select him, the fans in Vancouver are in for a treat this summer. Of the players I’ve seen so far this college season (a small sample, admittedly), he’s the most impressive.