Miami Marlins lefty Adam Conley was drafted by the Fish in the second round of the 2011 draft out of Washington State University. He worked his way through the minors and made his Major League debut on June 10, 2015. He put together an impressive rookie season, going 4-1 in 15 appearances (11 starts) with a 3.76 ERA and 7.93 K/9. In a mostly disappointing season for the Marlins, Conley was a bright spot and showed talent that could make him a long time contributor on the mound in Miami. Adam was nice enough to take some time to answer some questions, and here is that conversation:
You’ve been a Gulf Coast League Marlin, a Greensboro Grasshopper, a Jupiter Hammerhead, a Jacksonville Sun, a New Orleans Zephyr, and a Miami Marlin. What is the biggest challenge when advancing levels besides the stronger competition?
“Each league has its own challenges, you’re not exactly living like a rock star anywhere you go in the minor leagues, but in my experience (not including competition) advancing through the levels got easier as I went up.”
You wear number 61, which is not a commonly seen number. What is the significance behind that number for you?
“61 is the number I was assigned two years ago in Spring Training, those numbers are meaningless unless you get called up and don’t request a different number. I’ve never really had a favorite number, the number on my jersey doesn’t mean anything to me, it’s the number they gave me, and I’ll wear it!”
You were drafted out of high school by the Twins in the 32nd round of the 2008 draft but did not sign. You were then drafted in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft by the Marlins and signed two months later. What made you decide to go to college instead of starting your career with the Twins? Do you think the seasons you pitched in college will help you more in the long run than spending those seasons in the minors would have?
“My decision to go to college was an easy one, I weighed around 170 lbs, was throwing 86, and had a habit of getting into trouble. I believed my best chance at making it to the show was through gaining size and strength/velocity and improving my stuff. What I ended up getting was a changed life by finding the truth of the Gospel, and outing my faith in Jesus Christ. And all the other things I intended on getting. The beauty of that was I didn’t need baseball anymore, and by His mercy God let me have it anyway.”
You made your Major League debut on June 10th of this past season. What did you do to prepare for your first appearance? Did you do anything differently than you would have done for a minor league appearance?
“The big difference for my debut wasn’t that it was in the big leagues, it was that I came out of the bullpen which I hadn’t done in five years. Once I was on the mound it was like a normal baseball game to me.”
You spent most of your minor league career (81 out of 86 minor league appearances were starts) as a starter, then 4 of your first 5 Major League games came out of the bullpen before you worked your way into the rotation for the rest of the season. What kind of adjustments did you need to make to work out of the pen and then again going back to starting?
“Aside from an appearance out of the bullpen in the Gulf Coast League, all my minor league games were starts. They don’t all get classified as that, say if a big leaguer is rehabbing and throws the first inning, then in the second I came in and pitched six innings or something. Technically I came in relief, but I’m calling that a start. I relieved a lot in college, so I had some experience with this before. It had just been a while.”
You spent parts of two seasons pitching for the New Orleans Zephyrs. Despite the Pacific Coast League being widely known as a hitter’s league, you were very successful, pitching to a 2.52 ERA there in 2015. Do you approach a game differently when pitching in a “hitter’s park?” Did all of that change when you were able to start pitching home games at spacious Marlins Park?
“I have always enjoyed hitter’s parks actually. And have seemed to do well in them. I find a big weakness in hitters when they know hitting a ball in the air means a potential home run. Young hitters get completely out of their approach in hitter’s parks, they try and launch, and I use those big overly aggressive swings to my advantage (expand the zone). In sitting with hitting coaches, I had affirmation of this when they get to hitter’s parks and the coach is preaching approach and ‘not getting big,’ ‘don’t try to do too much’ etc. and basically all the minor leagues hitters have a tough time doing that.”
For the Marlins last season, you threw 726 fastballs (66%), 207 changeups (19%), and 168 sliders (15%). Is that about what you intend to do for 2016 or will you be approaching things differently in an attempt to change things up for teams that have had more chances to watch you on video and scout your tendencies?
“The purpose of my secondary pitches is to disrupt the hitter’s timing on my fastball. My fastball being my best pitch, I want to throw it as much as possible. But depending on the hitter, I may need more or less secondary stuff to disrupt that timing. This year I will have greater separation. Fastball velo too slow compared to slider, change up velo too fast compared to slider, slider velo was right last year.”
Throughout your career in the minors and continuing into your first big league season, you’ve been more effective against right handed batters than you have been against left handed batters, which is quite rare for a lefty pitcher. What do you attribute this to? Do you approach hitters differently based on the batter’s box the hitter stands in?
“I struggled throwing a swing and miss slider to lefties in the past, where to righties I had three pitches. I also rarely face lefties, so to my own fault in the past I have been less prepared for left handed hitters. In my mind putting nine right handed hitters in the line up is an advantage for me, by the opposing manager doing that, to me he’s making all my extension fastballs, a fastball in to a righty (the same pitch all night) once I find a pitch I can use it on everyone, if every hitter is “the same guy” then I like my chances.”
Going into Spring Training, your role on the 2016 team is undetermined. Hopefully, you’ll be in the rotation, but the bullpen may be your route to playing time on the big league team. What will you concentrate on in Spring Training in order to make the best impression on your mostly new group of coaches and managers?
“My focus in Spring will be to compete, and learn from the game of baseball. If I accomplish what I have set out to accomplish this offseason then the results will take care of themselves, and I’ll continue studying myself, and the game.”
Do you read into your statistics after games or do you rely more on watching video of your outings? Do you look into sabermetrics at all or use traditional statistics?
“I’ve never been against looking at statistics, but there are some that are more important to me than others. IP/start, K/9, K/BB, K/hit, WHIP, stats like that I believe tell more about a pitcher’s performance than things like wins, ERA. Those other major stats are contingent on the other eight guys on the field and the score keeper in box.”
You can find Adam on Twitter @AdamConley29 and you can see him pitching for the Miami Marlins in 2016 at a ballpark near you.