Ever since the Marlins selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft, Adam Conley has been largely overshadowed by the player the Marlins snatched in the first: Jose Fernandez.
Now, some of the spotlight is starting to shift in Conley’s direction.
Conley, a 25-year-old left-hander out of Washington State University, is making a compelling case to open the season in the Marlins’ starting rotation along with Fernandez.
“He’s been impressive,” manager Don Mattingly said. “He just seems like he’s committed, like he’s on a mission.”
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Which is precisely the case, the way Conley and others describe it.
“There’s been a huge transition for me from about a year ago,” he said.
Conley, a lanky lefty, overpowered hitters coming out of college. But as time progressed during his climb through the minors, his pitching demeanor changed.
“I was kind of a hair-on-fire, max-effort guy,” Conley said. “The most important thing was power, and I wasn’t totally hung up on where the ball went. I just really wanted to throw the ball hard.”
All that changed while pitching in the minors.
“Along the way, I think my delivery calmed down a lot,” he said. “My mentality changed a lot. I went away from the power stuff. I went away from the athleticism. I started being more concerned about where the ball ended up and the shape it was taking.”
The Marlins noticed. Conley was advised by members of the organization last season to go back to pitching the way he once did, with hard-throwing abandon.
Conley looked in the mirror and wondered what had happened.
“Man, that doesn’t sound like me,’” Conley said of his first reaction. “But I picked the tempo up, and I kind of got back the mentality of just letting it fly, and not being so careful about everything, not trying to be so polished.”
The advice paid off.
Conley went 4-1 with a 3.68 ERA in 11 starts for the Marlins last season.
But he was most impressive in September when he posted a 2-0 record and 2.62 ERA in six starts. It was “proof,” he said, “that I can get big leaguers out.
“It seems like last year was kind of one of those breakthrough years for him,” Mattingly said. “That never hurts a guy’s confidence. And once you’re able to do that then, in your mind, you know that you can, and you take that from there.”
Conley has brought that end-of-season confidence with him to Marlins camp this spring.
“This is my fourth camp here,” Conley said. “The atmosphere itself isn’t anything different. It’s not new to me. But, from the experience I had last year being in the big leagues, I think I’m so much more prepared now.”
Conley has looked sharp thus far this spring. He’s made a pair of Grapefruit League starts, allowing a run in 4 2/3 innings. It has made him a prime candidate to win an Opening Day roster spot for the first time.
“Spring training for me is being a younger guy, not being guaranteed anything, and showing that I can compete at that level,” he said. “But I just think my chances are better. I’ve always believed that I could pitch in the big leagues. I want to pitch in the big leagues because I want to face the best hitters in the world all the time. That’s who I want to be up against.”