Left-hander Adam Conley is headed overseas in 2021 to continue his playing career, according to Craig Mish, agreeing to terms with the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). It’s presumably a one-year deal.
Conley had spent all 10 of his previous professional seasons in the Marlins organization. They drafted him out of Washington State University in the second round of the 2011 amateur draft. He debuted in the majors four years later. The lean southpaw was selected to Miami’s 2020 Opening Day roster, but didn’t get a chance to appear in any regular season games before testing positive for COVID-19. He was designated for assignment prior to the Aug. 31 trade deadline, went unclaimed and accepted an outright assignment to the minors (removing him from the club’s player pool). He elected free agency following the end of the regular season.
Conley certainly showed some promise over the course of 174 MLB games (56 starts). His longest no-hit bid was 7 2⁄3 innings at Milwaukee on Apr. 29, 2016, plus on several other occasions, he dominated through the first two turns of an opponents’ lineup. But he lacked consistency and quality secondary pitches.
When moved to a full-time relief role, Conley’s average fastball velocity spiked to the mid-90s. In early 2018, he resurfaced from Triple-A and quickly emerged as a solid setup man for the Marlins. He attracted genuine interest from contending teams. Former FanGraphs writer Jeff Sullivan declared him the trade deadline’s most interesting lefty. “Conley’s tapping into a massive chamber of potential,” Sullivan wrote.
However, Michael Hill and the Marlins front office weren’t satisfied with the offers they received, electing to keep Conley and their other solid relievers (with the exception of pending free agent Brad Ziegler).
Conley’s career went downhill after that. Even though you could squint and see the next coming of Andrew Miller or Josh Hader, his swing-and-miss rate wasn’t in the same stratosphere. The progress he had made developing his changeup was completely undone in 2019—he allowed nine home runs to right-handed batters as a result.
The Marlins’ decision to tender Conley a $1.53 million contract for 2020 was mildly surprising. They were counting on some sort of rebound from his 6.53 ERA/5.19 FIP/1.73 WHIP disaster, I suppose. That didn’t happen. Conley looked shaky during exhibition games and evidently failed to demonstrate much competence during his weeks at the alternate training site in Jupiter, otherwise he would’ve found his way back to the active roster for the postseason push.
All in all, Conley contributed 2.5 fWAR for the Fish. He is the fifth-most productive player that the franchise has ever selected in the second round of the draft, behind only Giancarlo Stanton, Jason Vargas, Brad Hand and Trevor Williams. Even during his most extreme struggles, Conley meshed well with others in the clubhouse and gave thoughtful, respectful responses to the media.
Conley’s ex-teammates Wei-Yin Chen and Justin Bour both played in NPB this past season. Chen recently signed with the Hanshin Tigers for 2021, though Bour is expected to explore different opportunities.
There is still hope for Conley to be an effective pitcher. With the appropriate adjustments, he could make it back to the big leagues. But understandably, MLB teams were unwilling to give him any guarantees at this juncture.
Fish Stripes will be rooting for him.