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C’s Use Long Ball to Smoke Dust Devils

The Vancouver Canadians returned to the friendly, if not a bit smoky, confines of Nat Bailey Stadium this past Tuesday after completing their longest road trip of the season. A marathon, 10 game 13 day affair through Oregon. After dropping the first of three against the Tri-City Dust Devils on Tuesday evening, Vancouver looked to even things up on Wednesday, sending 2018 8th rounder, Joey Murray to the bump.

Tri-City tickled the scoreboard first when Tucipita Marcano who is from, and I’m not making this up, Tucipita, Venezuela hit a ground ball up the right side where C’s first basemen Yorman Rodriguez did his best impression of me playing goal, getting out of the way of a ball hit right at him as fast as he could. That scored San Diego’s 1st rounder Xavier Edwards — who is absolutely rapid by the way. Padres 2018 5th rounder Dwanya Williams-Sutton followed that up with a sacrifice fly.

Vancouver got one of those runs back when DH Chris Bec singled, stole second and was cashed in by a Jesus Severino double in the right center-field gap. Severino then followed him home, getting a good read when McGregory Contreras hit the most Texan of Texas leaguers over Tri-City’s drawn in first basemen.

The hometown team took the lead, for good, when Otto Lopez and Tanner Kirwer went back-to-back. Both taking 90mph fastballs over the Hey Y’all porch in left. Winning the good fans of Vancouver a free A&W Teen Burger in the process.

If you’ll forgive me for being cliche, the C’s, this season, are a bit of a lunch bucket crew. They are leading the Northwest League North division without, in my view, much in the way of prospects. Of course, prospects don’t necessarily mean success on the field, as this year’s Lansing Lugnuts, who are destroying the Midwest League, will attest. Still, this is the first year, I’ve covered the C’s where nobody really stands out, although I did see a pitcher a few days after this post was started which may make me eat my words. That post is yet to come.

The first C to crack mlb.com’s top 30 Jays prospects is 2018 2nd rounder Griffin Conine who checks in at 16. The former Duke Blue Devil right-fielder has obvious power, hitting 18 home runs and slugging .608 his junior year.

That power hasn’t necessarily translated to pro ball (so far at least). He does lie second on the C’s with 5 home runs, however Conine is only slugging .428 for a rather pedestrian .734 OPS. Combine that with a 26.7% strike out rate and you can start drawing conclusions on what kind of hitter Conine aspires to be.

Before I get into what I saw, a short pre-amble. In the six or so years I’ve been watching Northwest League games the instances where pitchers throw in the mid to upper 90s is rare. Guys like Miguel Castro and Nate Pearson are outliers. Most pitchers sit in the upper 80s to low 90s range.

The first time I saw Griffin though, he was facing velocity. In the form of Texas Ranger’s 2018 40th rounder Cole Uvila. Sitting in the mid-90s range, Uvila routinely beat Conine with 4-seamers in the upper part of the zone, striking out the C’s right fielder twice in 2 ABs. Both were swinging strike outs and both times, Conine was overmatched.

As first impressions go, it wasn’t a great one, so wasn’t expecting much the second time around. Unfortunately those expectations were met. With runners on first and second and one out in the first, Conine ran the count even after four fastballs in the 89(ish) mph range. He then struck out on an 82 mph change down and in. To say he didn’t cut down on his swing would be an understatement.

The next two at bats saw outs on the infield. The first, with nobody on and two out, Griffin worked the count in his favour before hitting a sharp ground ball up the middle on a 89 mph fastball. Unfortunately the shortstop was shading him to pull and made a routine play. In the fifth, Conine again went up the middle. This time though, he got jammed up on a 92 mph fastball and tapped it meekly to the pitcher.

In the 7th inning with one out and nobody on, Conine got his first look at Gabe Mosser. The Padres 2018 27th rounder threw four fastballs away before coming in. The C’s left-hander wasn’t able to get his hands through and flew out weekly to right. That made for an 0-4 night with one strike-out and only one ball that was hit relatively hard.

As for his mechanics, like many of the kids we see in Vancouver these days, Conine has a very wide, open stance. His front foot will close during his load. I wouldn’t say his leg kick is exceptionally high. Nor did I get a good enough read as to whether he was getting his foot down in time. That’s something to watch for another day. He holds his hands up high and employs an odd claw-like grip on the bat with his upper hand. As mentioned above, Conine swings hard, even with two strikes. Looking to use his hip torque to generate enough backspin and loft to potentially drive the ball some distance in the air.

While teams don’t generally shift at this level the Dust Devils were definitely shading him to pull. This will only become more extreme as Conine climbs the organizational ladder. It’s this generation of hitters, those that see shifting early in their professional careers, who will need to figure out the necessary adjustments to ensure opposition positioning is kept honest. From what I’ve seen — and please bear in mind it is an extremely small sample — the C’s 2018 2nd rounder will struggle to do that.

Notes from the Box:

It’s been awhile since I’ve been in the venerable C’s pressbox and have to say it was nice to be back. Especially since C’s broadcasting hall of famer Elliot Pap was in attendance.

Old correspondent Clint messaged me per below:

I made a note to keep an eye on Lopez going forward. Will look to have something up on him shortly.

Per usual, Wednesday’s game was a sell-out. And from what I can gather, the Nat is full for the rest of the season. The success of this team never C’eases to amaze me. Steve Ewen over at the Province is in the process of writing a ‘Summer with the C’s’ series. Definitely worth a look.

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