With the uncertainty surrounding their rotation, it’s a very advantageous time to be a long relief pitcher in the Miami Marlins’ organization. The team proved that on Monday when they called up Adam Conley from AAA to replace an injured Bryan Morris. Conley is the third such candidate the Marlins have promoted in the last two weeks.
Conley is a 6’3″, 185 pound lefty who has enjoyed a good minor league career, graduating to the next level with each passing season. He arrives in the majors at 25, right on schedule for his prospect status to expire. After being drafted out of Washington State in 2011 after a senior year which saw him become the ace of the staff, total the team’s second best K/BB (3.07) and the second best WHIP (1.3), Conley made his way to Greensboro. In his first 74 major league innings, he struck out 84 while only walking 24 and allowing 58 hits (1.1 WHIP) and holding down a realistic .289 BABIP, earning him the promotion to A+ Jupiter for the second half of the season. At just 22, Conley was on the fast track to make it to the majors. Conley then spent 2013 in AA Jacksonville where he put his endurance on display, leading the team in innings pitched with 138. Conley once again held baserunners to a minimum compiling a minuscule 1.06 WHIP. He allowed less hits (125) than IP and hung nearly as many Ks (129).
In 2014, Conley received his third call up in two years time. It was there with the Zephyrs in AAA that his numbers came crashing back down to earth. Averaging less than 6 innings per start, Conley averaged 6 earned runs on nearly 10 hits both career highs. He also posted career highs in BB/9 (3.9) and WHIP (1.52), assuring himself another year in the minors. While his 2014 season was a bit more realistic of the type of year Conley’s stuff translates to, the numbers were heightend by an extremely high .333 BABIP in his first year in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.
In almost exactly as many innings this season as last with the Zephyrs, Conley’s BABIP has normalized to .293 and with it, so have his H/9 (8.54) and WHIP (1.34), giving us our best inclination as to what to expect from him at the big league level. Though most of the offense he has given up has been his fault (4.35 FIP), Conley is pitching extremely well with men on base, stranding 77.4% of his runners, leading to a 2.86 ERA, making him the Z’s second best starter (amongst current roster members) in that category. Conley has been on a roll as of late, tossing five quality outings in his last seven tries.
Stuff wise, Conley has a fastball that tops out at 95 but his velocity varies in each start. While he has made improvements upon his secondary stuff, a low 80s changeup and a high 70s slider, neither has yet to become an above average pitch. Where Conley excels is in the way he delivers with a fluid motion and from a very low arm slot which makes him very affective against lefties and any hitter that struggles against a southpaw. He also has good control and a good knowledge of the strikezone, allowing him to place his pitches well and avoid big contact. Conley’s arsenal along with the aforementioned fact that he has been great at stranding runners this year point to him being effective in the role the Marlins have called him up to fill: a mid to long relief bullpen slot who can spot start.
The bottom line: Conley is a second round pick who graduated quickly through the system but one who translates much better as a bullpen arm than a starter. He is better from the stretch and strands runners with good varying heat that tops out at 95. His secondary stuff is average at best, causing him to rely heavily on the fastball but he has great control and a good working intellect of the strikezone. Delivering from a low arm slot, he is very tough against lefties and batters who struggle against lefties. He works quickly and mixes pitches well, keeping hitters guessing. Right now, as his prospect status ends, he isn’t rotation ready. There is still some slight room for improvement which could allow him to become a 4-5 starter but the fact that he is more comfortable from the belt makes him a perfect candidate to serve in the capacity the Marlins have called upon him to fill: mid-long reliever.