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2019 Marlins Season Preview: Adam Conley

We close our player previews with a take on the Marlins’ closer situation.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Conley’s 2018 didn’t go as planned, but it still came as a pleasant surprise. He didn’t make the team out of spring training, but he pitched well in AAA, and the team called him up to join the relief corps in May and for good. The 28-year-old would thrive in relief as his fastball would jump to 95.7 mph on average last season, almost six mph higher than 2017 as a starter. Consequently, he was much harder to hit and his swinging-strike rate jumped 4.9 percent leading to immediate success.

Conley would register a 2.88 ERA in 25 first-half innings, but the wheels would come off after the All-Star break as the lefty turned in a 5.28 ERA in 25.2 frames. He would finish the season on a high note however, allowing just two earned runs over ten innings in the season’s final month. He re-inserted himself into the closer picture by notching one of his three saves on the year along with a quarter of his 16 holds.

Maybe no one noticed, but Fangraphs has been quietly touting Conley as a breakout candidate in relief this season, one who could potentially seize the ninth inning for himself despite being a southpaw or instead have a 100-strikeout season in a Josh Hader/Andrew Miller-like role with continued development. However, the addition of Sergio Romo to the bullpen gave the Marlins several late inning options in addition to the Washington State product and Drew Steckenrider, and the team will not use a traditional closer to start 2019 as a result.

In spring training, Conley stood out the most among the three, posting a 2.08 ERA, 0.923 WHIP, and a save in 8.2 innings. He allowed two home runs but mostly showed good control, as evidenced by his nine strikeouts to just one walk. Romo also performed well, going 7.1 innings with a 3.68 ERA and a 0.682 WHIP, striking out 10 and allowing just two free passes. Meanwhile, Steckenrider gave up nine runs in eight innings and walked more men (five) than he struck out (four).

My prediction is that while I do not doubt that Don Mattingly will not have a problem using all three relievers for save situations throughout the course of the season, Romo will lead this team in saves until he is traded. Assuming health, Steckenrider will right the ship and not fade out of the saves picture entirely. Yet it will be Conley who finishes as the team’s best reliever. He will see occasional saves in ninth innings with lefties due up, but otherwise, he’ll be a Hader-lite, serving as a multi-inning leverage guy. It may go so well for him that he himself gets traded because a controllable left-hander putting up good, possibly great numbers will surely draw interest from contenders. Include Conley among the interesting young Marlin arms to track as the season progresses. Happy Opening Day.