Conley falls homer shy in 4-knock effort in AFL

November 4th, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- is up for the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game Final 2 vote, set to end Friday at noon ET. He made a strong final argument for himself Thursday afternoon.

The Braves’ No. 12 prospect went 4-for-6 with a triple, a double and two RBIs as part of Scottsdale’s 16-hit effort in an 11-3 win over Peoria at Peoria Stadium. The four knocks established a new AFL high for the switch-hitting shortstop, besting his three from Oct. 17 that also came in a road game against the Javelinas.

“I’ve been working on getting good pitches to hit, instead of chasing as much,” Conley said. “Today, I was fortunate to get some pitches to hit and put some good swings on them. That was my approach today.”

All four of the hits played well into Conley’s overall hitting strategy.

His first-inning single was a grounder through the left side on the first pitch he saw from Peoria right-handed starter Hunter Stanley. His third-inning triple was pounded into the right-field corner, allowing him to utilize his above-average speed. His seventh-inning base hit was another liner to right that scored Nick Yorke. His ninth-inning double was placed over the third baseman’s head and toward the pole in left.

His two outs came on a popped ball to short and a flyout to left. Everything else was a line drive or sprayed perfectly. In other words, there weren’t any cheapies.

“I’ve found a decent rhythm of seeing the ball deeper, not trying to do too much, which is letting me not chase as much,” Conley said. “I’m trying to shorten things up, stay with low line drives, gap to gap and really just the play the game.”

Following Thursday’s performance, Conley is 8-for-19 (.421) over his last four games with the Scorpions. That run has pushed his Arizona Fall League batting average from .260 to .304, the first time it’s gone above .300 since Oct. 17.

The 2021 fourth-rounder’s bright ending to the Fall League concludes what’s been an educational first full season in the pros. In April, Atlanta assigned the Texas Tech product to Single-A Augusta, where he slashed .246/.307/.414  with 10 homers and 23 steals in 75 games. He showed modest improvement (.260/.337/.429 over 44 games) after a July promotion to High-A Rome, though it did feature a 25.1 percent strikeout rate too. In all, Conley finished out the 2022 regular season with a 101 wRC+, making him a near-perfect average hitter at the Minors’ two lowest full-season levels.

Conley’s move to the Fall League represented an opportunity to see more advanced pitching and make further adjustments that could turn Conley back into the more solid hitter he was in college, where he hit .329 with a .980 OPS in 56 games in his last season in Lubbock.

“Beginning of the year, I went through a two-month period where I wasn’t hitting [well],” he said. “I was around the ball [with] just bad misses. Swinging and missing a lot. I learned a lot this year about hitting and sticking to the type of player I am, which is low line drives and letting the power come with it.”

To that point, Conley owns a .551 slugging percentage and .973 OPS through 83 AFL plate appearances, but eight of his 10 extra-base hits have stayed in the park as either doubles or triples.

Even before Thursday’s performance, the 23-year-old’s showing in Arizona -- between his speed and solid defense at a premium position -- had put him on enough radars to make him a Final 2 candidate ahead of Sunday’s Fall Stars Game in Mesa. There is the slight awkwardness of his Scottsdale teammates Justyn-Henry Malloy (No. 11 Braves prospect) and Luis Matos (No. 3 Giants) being on the ballot too, but even being considered is a sign that those first two months of difficult hitting are well in Conley’s rearview.

“If I get it or J-Hen or Matos or whoever, I’m happy for them,” he said. “It'd be pretty cool to be a part of it. It'd be something I’d never forget.”

Malloy helped his case by going 2-for-4 with a double and two walks. Red Sox prospects (No. 4) and (No. 21) went yard in the Scorpions’ win.