The son of Mr. Marlin wasn’t recruited by the Miami Hurricanes.
Duke preseason first-team All-American right fielder Griffin Conine played high school baseball at Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest, has great bloodlines. His father, Jeff, had a 17-year major-league career, acquiring the aforementioned nickname.
Even so, Griffin Conine simply wasn’t on the radar of any local university.
“I never came in contact with [Miami],” said Conine, now a 20-year-old junior at Duke. “I never reached out to them. They never reached out to me.
“They were top 10 in the country at the time. I was a late bloomer, and they did a lot of their recruiting early.”
This past summer, after Conine’s brilliant sophomore season in which he led Duke with 13 homers, a .425 on-base percentage and a .546 slugging percentage, there was a chance encounter.
Conine, a lefty swinger who was invited to the College World Series Home Run Derby, said he met Hurricanes coach Jim Morris for the first time, in Omaha.
“We talked for a little bit,” said Conine, whose team will host the Hurricanes this weekend for a three-game series starting Friday. “He told me, ‘I think we made a mistake’ [not recruiting you].”
Maybe the Marlins made a mistake, too.
He is far superior to where I was at that age.
Jeff Conine, who coached Griffin with the Weston Rattlers travel team from ages 10 to 13
The Marlins drafted Conine out of high school in the 31st round. But the bonus money associated with that round in the draft was nowhere near enough for Conine to give up his chance at a Duke education.
This year, for the first time since high school, Conine is again eligible for the draft. This time, Conine is projected as a sure-fire first-round pick, and the Marlins own the 13th selection in the draft.
To add intrigue to the selection process, the Marlins — under new ownership headed by former Yankees star Derek Jeter — fired Jeff Conine along with many others in a cost-cutting move. Jeff had been serving as a special assistant to former Marlins president David Samson.
Meanwhile, Baseball America projects Griffin Conine will be selected 14th overall, by the Seattle Mariners — one selection after the Marlins.
But Jeff Conine, contacted by the Herald for this story, said he would be fine if his former organization drafted his son.
“I don’t care who picks him,” he said. “Whoever drafts him will be my [favorite] team. Getting drafted doesn’t guarantee the major leagues, but it opens the door.”
Will Griffin turn pro this year?
“If he’s a high-round draft pick,” Jeff Conine said, “it would be pretty tough not to sign.”
Griffin Conine comes from an incredibly accomplished family.
Jeff was a two-time All-Star who won two World Series titles with the Marlins. His wife, Cindy, was a pro racquetball player. Griffin said his older sister, Sierra, is the “brain” of the family — she’s at Yale en route to becoming a doctor. And their younger brother, Tucker, is a high school track star at St. Thomas Aquinas, running the 400 meters.
Griffin said Tucker is already faster than anyone on his Duke baseball team.
But, as a pre-teen, Griffin was more interested in skate-boarding than baseball.
He could do a mean kick-flip, and he once went to a California skate park and did a jump down a set of 12 stairs.
A knee injury suffered while playing sandlot football ended Conine’s skate-boarding career, and he soon turned to baseball.
“At age 12, Griffin was a skinny, slap-hitting second baseman,” said Wayne Stofsky, a long-time family friend who coached Griffin during his senior year at Pine Crest. “He wasn’t a committed baseball player. He liked to do things most 12-year-old kids do.
“But in the summer before his junior year, he started to love baseball. He hit the weight room and started doing what committed baseball players do.”
During that junior year at Pine Crest, Conine emerged as a star. He hit .468 with eight homers, a .587 on-base percentage and a .873 slugging percentage, earning the honor of Broward County’s Hitter of the Year.
On the advice of his parents, Conine sought the colleges with the best academic reputations, and he narrowed his choices to Duke, Rice and Wake Forest.
Duke coach Chris Pollard, who had first spotted Conine at a tournament in Fort Myers, won the recruiting battle.
“It was the summer heading into his junior year,” Pollard said of the Fort Myers tournament. “He didn’t have a great tournament, but we liked the swing, and we liked the body.
“When he came on a campus visit, I was sold. He had an ‘it’ factor.”
Conine is one of three former Pine Crest players on the Duke baseball team, joining junior Zack Kone, who has been the Blue Devils starting shortstop since he arrived on campus; and freshman Michael Rothenberg, a switch-hitting catcher.
Duke’s men’s basketball team also has a Pine Crest graduate — Antonio Vrankovic, a 7-foot junior center from Croatia and one of Conine’s best friends.
Kone and Vrankovic helped ease Conine’s transition at Duke. Even so, Conine struggled as a freshman.
He started Duke’s season opener and produced a walk-off single to beat 10th-ranked Cal. However, he hit just .205 that season, appearing in 35 games, starting 20.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” he said. “I wasn’t very confident. I was thrust into a starting role, and I wasn’t ready. I was beat before I even got into the box. I worked myself out of the starting role, and I was actually relieved.”
That summer, Conine went to work.
When [Griffin Conine] comes home [South Florida], he comes over with his dad, and we throw him batting practice. It’s scary how hard he hits the ball. I stay behind the ‘L’ screen. Sometimes I even wear a helmet.
Wayne Stofsky, a longtime family friend who coached Griffin during his senior year at Pine Crest
He joined the Northwoods League and found his stroke, hitting .286 with 16 homers, 15 doubles, 16 steals, 30 walks and 47 RBI in 58 games.
After his big sophomore season at Duke, in which he started all 56 games, Conine spent last summer playing in the prestigious Cape Cod league, earning all-star status. Scouts named him the league’s top prospect.
This year, he has been named a preseason first-team All-American by virtually every publication and/or website, including Baseball America, D1Baseball, Perfect Game and Collegiate Baseball.
Conine is not just a baseball player. His talent extends to free-hand pencil drawings, including his favorite: a rendering of the Duke chapel as seen from his window.
“He does stuff that is mind-blowing,” Jeff Conine said. “I don’t know where he gets it because we [rest of the family] are all terrible [at drawing].”
Some of Griffin’s art has been displayed around Duke’s campus.
“I started when I was six — I had a dinosaur phase,” Conine said of his drawings. “Then it was Spider-Man. For a while, that was all I drew.”
Conine, a Visual Arts major, said he would enjoy working as a graphic artist, perhaps re-designing or designing team logos.
But baseball is at the forefront of his plans, and he’s pretty good at that, too.
“When he comes home, he comes over with his dad, and we throw him batting practice,” said Stofsky, who now runs his own baseball academy. “It’s scary how hard he hits the ball.
“I stay behind the ‘L’ screen. Sometimes I even wear a helmet.”
BETTER THAN DAD?
Conine has a long way to go to even come close to the accomplishments of his father.
But, at a similar stage in their careers, Griffin has a huge edge. That’s because Jeff was a self-admitted “mediocre” relief pitcher at UCLA. He wasn’t drafted until the 58th round — he would’ve gone undrafted in today’s shorter selection process.
Jeff wasn’t even drafted as a pitcher. Former UCLA pitching coach turned scout Guy Hansen, who had seen Conine in batting practice, urged the Kansas City Royals to select him as a hitter.
Conine’s only plate appearance at UCLA ended without a conclusive swing — he was hit by a pitch.
“He is far superior to where I was at that age,” said Jeff Conine, who coached Griffin with the Weston Rattlers travel team from ages 10 to 13.
Pollard believes Conine would’ve been even better last year had he not rolled his ankle with three weeks remaining in the season.
Even so, Conine was extremely impressive, most memorably with his home run off of Louisville’s Brendan McKay, the ACC Player of the Year and the fourth pick in the 2017 draft.
“He single-handedly won that game for us,” Pollard said. “That was power versus power.
“Griff has the best bat speed I’ve ever coached.”
Conine consistently wins all Duke’s tests regarding exit velocity off his bat.
“He has natural launch in his swing,” Pollard said. “He hits high line drives that carry. This year, he has developed power to all fields. When he first got here, his power was all to the pull side.”
But it’s more than just Conine’s power. He also shows discipline at the plate, striking out just 45 times last year.
Pollard said Conine has a “cannon arm” and is well above average as a base-runner, going 9-for-9 on steals last year.
“He’s a complete player,” Pollard said. “He’s special.”