Griffin Conine’s MLB Swing Comps

This spring has been a busy one. My first day of live baseball was 1/26. Since then, I have seen 11 D1 college programs and attended 17 baseball events, including scrimmages, games and showcases. This isn’t meant to be braggadocious. It’s intended to underscore the fact I have seen a fair amount of D1 players YTD, and there have been a number of excellent hitters among them. These “kids” are possible top 5 round MLB draft picks: Jimmy Herron, Johnny Aiello, Carlos Cortes. They are very good players, but none of them were on par with Duke’s Griffin Conine.

For lack of a better idiom, he’s “A dude off the bus” as coined by the Up and In Podcast. You might be asking yourself, what the h*** does that even mean? It’s a guy who catches your attention almost immediately due to his physique. Conine’s massive pecs bulge out of his shirt. He simply LOOKS LIKE an athlete and passes the eye test. He’s an incredibly strong kid and has clearly put in serious work in the weight room. Conine hits the ball with authority, much harder than any of his D1 contemporaries I have seen.

Although his strength is impressive, it is not Conine’s defining characteristic as a baseball player. Scouts and teams alike should be wondering how he was able to slug .546 last year in one of the best D1 conferences, while maintaining a strikeout rate of 16.72%.  It’s also worth noting, he walked in 15.24% of his plate appearances, otherwise expressed as a 41 to 45 BB:K ratio. I try to avoid scouting the stat line, but these numbers say a lot. Considering his power output, he rarely strikes out, makes pitchers come into the zone and punishes them when they do. The stats are sexy, but the (multi-) million dollar question is, “How will this production translate to pro ball?” In an attempt to answer it, let’s examine his hitting mechanics by comparing them to active major league players.

This was an arduous process. Step one: open the Fangraphs 2017 Leaderboard. Step two: search for open-faced swing for given player on YouTube. Step three: compare swing to Conine’s swing. Step four: repeat 100 times. That’s right, folks. I looked at a hundred major league swings and compared each of them to Griffin Conine’s swing. Two players’ swings stood out as having similar characteristics: Jay Bruce and Corey Seager.

As a companion piece, I highly recommend reading Ryan Parker’s (Twitter: @RA_Parker) Baseball Prospectus article, RP BP Article, in which he explains hitting mechanics and breaks swings into components. Parker defines and elaborates on each phase, which I will touch on below.

The Stance:

Jay Bruce had the most similar base stance to Griffin Conine. Both start with their hands hands high, back elbow parallel to the ground, and legs fairly wide apart. Both bend their back knee, although Conine’s bend is more pronounced. Another difference is Bruce’s front foot is bent back slightly facing home.

Gather/Load:

At the gather phase hitters rock back for momentum before coming forward to attack the ball. Both guys shift their weight to their back leg and start to lower their hands. Conine’s shift is very slight. He barely moves back at all. Interestingly, Bruce raises his elbow as he dips his hands. I think this adds length to his swing but also results in an uppercut path that generates significant power. Bruce also has a larger leg kick than Conine, whose lower body is quieter and more controlled.

Approach:

After the gather, hitters move their weight forward as their hands move into a ready position. There seem to be more similarities between Corey Seager and Griffin Conine after the gather phase. Conine’s lower body movements closely mirror Seager. They are very subtle. Both rock back slightly to their back foot before they come forward in a controlled manner. Conine starts his hands high and Seager starts his hands low, but they both slowly shift their elbows to a point where they are level with their shoulders. Bruce, on the other, hand maintains a high elbow even as he begins the approach.

Slot, Then Foot Strike:

As noted in Ryan Parker’s article, “the slot” is characterized by the back elbow being more or less level with the back shoulder. Slotting refers to a hitter’s hands. It’s the moment before a hitter’s hands begin to move forward toward the mound and into the hitting zone. By the slot position, Conine is very similar to Seager. Both are approaching foot strike and their hands are similarly positioned. The only real difference is the right/bottom arm. Seager’s is parallel to the ground and Conine’s is “angled up”. This would result in more of an uppercut for Conine, which may be the only remaining similarity I can see to Jay Bruce.

In Parker’s article, he also mentions the importance of the slot’s timing and relative to foot strike. Conine slots well before his foot strike. His center of mass stays back. This enables him to utilize his full body as he brings the bat forward through the hitting zone. It may explain how he is able to generate big power out of a relatively “quiet swing”. His power looks to be generated by upper body strength more than his lower body, which is especially quiet.

Barrel Enters Zone:

Not sure what to say here. These look like carbon copies, no?

Contact:

I have a couple of observations here. First, Corey Seager rolls over his front foot after contact. I am not sure what purpose this serves, but I noticed Carlos Gonzalez does the same thing. Second, Seager’s lower body looks to be more involved than Conine’s.

In summation, I see a swing that incorporates aspects of Jay Bruce and Corey Seager. Conine’s stance and high hands through the slot position result in an uppercut swing that should generate power. The way he keeps his weight back through hand slot also suggests he’ll be able to hit for power. At the same time, the ease of his lower body movements result in a smooth, repeatable swing. I believe his upper body strength coupled with the fluidity of his lower body will allow him to hit for power while maintaining consistent contact. This is a unique swing with a controlled violence that reminds me of few other players.

The photos/video of Jay Bruce and Corey Seager were trimmed from YouTube videos. The Bruce video was courtesy of Walt Hilsenbeck. You can find him on Twitter @HilsFilms. His YouTube account has an immense amount of baseball content too. Check it out here! Walt Hilsenbeck YouTube. The Seager video was from rkyosh007. Please check out his YouTube account too. rkyosh007 YouTube

2/2, 2/3, 2/6 Duke Preseason Scrimmages

There were two Duke pitchers who stood out to me, and I think both are capable of throwing harder than they did in my viewings. The first was Graeme Stinson, a massive 6’5″ 250 lb lefty. He went one inning so take this with a grain of salt. The fastball sat 92 and touched 94. His secondary offering was a low-80s curveball that flashed plus. It was inconsistent both in terms of its sharpness and location, but there were a couple of solid 60s in there. Looking at his body and delivery, I couldn’t help but believe he is capable of more velocity. Currently, the velo is more the product of raw strength than mechanics, although that is not to say his mechanics are poor. Stinson’s balance is plus. Specifically, his head is very stable relative to center of mass throughout the delivery. I am optimistic he can add to his fastball velocity because I think there is some room for improvement with his torque. At present, he does not utilize much hip to shoulder separation. I want to see more of Stinson especially after reading he also employs a changeup. There is day one Rule 4 MLB Draft potential here.

The other pitcher who caught my eye was Adam Laskey. Another lefty, he sat 90-91 with a filthy, high-70s breaking ball. I have seen it labeled a slider or curve in various places. It looked more like a curve to me. Whatever the f*** it is, it’s nasty. It featured sharp, tight spin and late two-plane movement. It’s one of the handful of best pitches I have seen this spring and probably already a major league 60. I’d be willing to commit a few minor misdemeanors to get a look at its spin rate data. Mechanically, Laskey gets plus extension, which should result an a positive perceived to actual velocity differential and allow his stuff to play up. His momentum also stands out as a plus attribute. I don’t see any glaring weaknesses in the delivery; it’s very smooth and kinetically efficient.

Among position players there were a handful of standouts.

Jimmy Herron displayed excellent bat control. He used all fields in BP and in games, and his bat finds barrels at a high rate. I think his approach is contact-oriented, but he is  strong enough to run into some homers. One criticism is his propensity to expand the zone and chase well-located breaking balls down and away, which happened a few times in my looks. Herron is a plus runner. I had him 3.6 home to first on a perfectly-placed bunt in Friday’s scrimmage. This shouldn’t be measured on the same scale as a swinging home to first time, but it’s fast regardless. There weren’t enough balls hit his way to get a feel for him defensively.

Zack Kone has the best hands on the team, and it’s evident on both sides of the ball. At shortstop, his infield actions are smooth and his release is wicked fast. At first glance, I think the arm and range are average. According to goduke.com, he made 20 errors last year for what it’s worth. At the plate Kone has a short, quick stroke. The bat speed is plus, and I think he’s going to be really tough to strike out. At times, the swing becomes too linear and this threatens to temper his power output. More concerningly, he appears gets too much weight on his front foot before his hands enter the hitting zone. The result is a mostly wrist/hand powered swing, which fails to utilize the full kinetic chain. On the basepaths, I think his speed plays up because he has a good feel for stealing.

Steve Mann has the best bat speed on the team. Better than Herron. Better than Kone. Better than Conine. Last Friday Duke did BP, and I took video. After arriving home I looked at the open-faced swings for every player. It became very evident that Mann has a special tool at his disposal. I am not sure how it will translate on the field, but it is a preternatural gift he’s been blessed with.  His swing plane has been a bit flat in my in-game looks, but there are times in BP when he elevates, and I think to myself, “HELL yes. There it is.” On the basepaths, I got a couple of underwhelming run times, but I think he’s ultimately an average runner. After consulting with Google, I found him on Baseball America’s 2016 Fall Top 100 High School players list. BA 2016 Fall Top 100 HS. He’s a player I want to monitor closely. Mann is a strong kid at 6’0″ 195lbs. I see hefty offensive potential here.

Chris Proctor is an athletic catcher with a lithe frame. His left-handed swing is aesthetically pleasing and balanced. He hit more ground balls in-game than I expected based off of his BP in which he achieved better loft. I am uncertain if this is small sample size variance or whether his swing flattens in-game. The approach at the plate is pretty aggressive; this kid likes to swing. Proctor’s home to first run times of 4.11-4.19 have him bordering on plus territory for a left-handed hitter. His receiving skills and athleticism are plus. The arm strength might be below average, but I only have one pop for him at 2.26. In my estimation more data is needed.

Griffin Conine is alright. Just kidding. I am saving him for a separate post in which I will break down his hitting mechanics and attempt to compare him to a current major leaguer.