The chances of a player taken in the 31st round ever contributing to a big league ball club are pretty slim. Even slimmer, when the player in question is trying A-ball for the first time as a 24-year-old. However, Austin Conway, relief pitcher for the Winston-Salem Dash, just might have the talent to overcome the odds.
Conway was selected by the Chicago White Sox from the University of Louisville in the 2018 draft. He played four seasons of college ball at Indiana State, then transferred to Louisville as a grad student where he played his fifth season (he was granted a medical redshirt after missing the majority of his junior year).
The sturdily-built, 6´1´´, 220-pound righthander was a very accomplished collegiate pitcher, having been the recipient of the Russ Ford Award as the best relief pitcher in the prestigious Cape Cod League in 2015. The “Cape” is a wood bat showcase league known for featuring some of the best collegiate baseball talent in the country, and the players in attendance are generally there to receive live looks from major league scouting departments and to solidify or improve their MLB draft outlooks. Conway did just that, pitching his way to a perfect 0.00 ERA while racking up 21 strikeouts and 10 saves in 19 innings pitched, allowing only eight hits and five walks.
Conway’s repertoire features a three-pitch mix; fastball, slider, and changeup. His four-seam fastball sits 94-96 mph and has touched 97 mph, his slider is between 83-86 and his changeup runs 86-87. He refers to his slider as his out pitch, but acknowledges that his fastball velocity has steadily improved.
“I had been up to 95 in college on different occasions, but as far as sitting at this velocity, this is a new thing,” Conway tells South Side Sox. “I focused a lot of time this offseason on the weight room, and translating that over into my throwing program. I do a plyo-ball throwing routine that is fairly similar to a lot of the popular programs, like Driveline.”
On the mound, Conway’s motion is fairly simple, because he has been a reliever since college. He throws strictly from the stretch, and releases the ball from a high three-quarters arm slot.
Conway recently joined the Kannapolis Intimidators and took the Single-A South Atlantic League by storm before receiving a rapid promotion to the Single-A+ Dash. In Kannapolis, Conway dominated the competition, going 3-for-3 in save opportunities while striking out 13 hitters in six innings and holding opposing batters to a meager .105 average against.
During these outings, his fastball looked particularly explosive and featured a riding action that is synonymous with a high spin rate. When competing in head-to-head duels with opposing hitters Conway suggests that he leans on his catcher to help sequence his pitches, and that his focus is to concentrate on making quality pitches.
With the Dash, Conway and his former Indiana State teammate Will Kincannon will likely share late-inning duties and be the components of a formidable closing tandem. Conway is certainly a power bullpen arm that White Sox fans need to know, and should enjoy tracking his progress as he works through the system.