Something wasn’t right. I must’ve opened the wrong file, or maybe my eyes weren’t working properly -- it was early and I hadn’t had my coffee yet. I rubbed my eyes and double checked the filename, but nothing changed. He was still there, sitting atop OSA’s Top 100 Prospect Rankings. I keep pretty close tabs on the prospect rankings throughout the season, especially near the top of the list, so it was a bit of a surprise when a player I’d never heard of was suddenly ranked #1: Evegnii Mirxayan of the Cleveland Indians.
“Who the hell is this guy?” was my first thought. (“How the hell do you pronounce this guy’s name?” was my second.) From the moment I opened his scouting report, I was in love. Mirxayan, then playing for Cleveland’s Rookie League affiliate, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, was posting an absurd 252 ERA+ through 12 games, with a K/9 of 16.2. He’s had games of 15, 16, and 17 strikeouts in the past year. OSA has Mirxayan’s potential Stuff rating at a scale-breaking 124 (out of 100). To put that in perspective, Gan Bi, potential Hall of Famer and best pitcher in baseball for the past four years, leads the league with a rating of 120, followed by a spattering of guys with around 100. Mirxayan’s current Stuff as rated by OSA is 99, which would have him ranked seventh-best in the TNBL. He’s 20 years old.
Mirxayan currently has three elite-level pitches in his arsenal, with a fourth “merely” average one (although it has the potential to be plus-plus). He’s got the stamina to be a workhorse and go deep into games. He’s got good control for a 20 year old, and OSA projects it to be plus when he’s fully developed. His fastball touches 98 mph, and he’s fantastic at controlling the running game and defending his position, to boot. The players who have played with him call him one of the best teammates they’ve ever been around. There is literally only one knock on Mirxayan, and it’s that the movement on his fastball is below average, which likely won’t even matter since batters will never make contact on it, anyway. Regardless, Mirxayan is one of the best and most developed pitchers in all of minor league baseball. He’s 20 years old.
As much as I want to keep talking about Mirxayan (and trust me, I could talk about him for days), I really want to talk about the Cleveland Indians’ approach to the International Free Agency signing period of 2031. For those of you who don’t remember, the 2031 IFA period was headlined by huge signings, most notably Brent Trewartha (who signed with the then-Hershey Bears for $39.9M) and Tak-keung Zhang (also Hershey Bears, $31.9M). While those two deals were a bit out of the ordinary (and played a part in the firing of the Hershey Bears’ GM, the first such firing in TNBL history), most IFA periods are headlined by multi-million dollar deals. Most of the players signing those deals are younger than 18 years old, meaning they’re the furthest away of any prospects in baseball. As you’d probably expect, the majority of them never come close to their potential, many of them crashing out before they even hit the minor leagues. So the question is: why do so many teams spend so much money on the most volatile assets in baseball?
In 2031, Cleveland decided to go the other direction. Instead of signing a few good players to massive deals, they signed plentiful “bad” players to smaller deals. Specifically, they signed 12 players, for deals ranging from $350k for reliever Vilhelm Zimmerman, to their “headline” signing — SP Alfonso Diazbarriga and all of his 33 potential — for $1.7M. Mirxayan sat near the middle of that pack, signing for $700k after not being signed in the 2030 IFA period. Some of those signings have since gone up in value — such as 3B Harrison Munns, who signed for $1.4M and is now Cleveland’s 21st rated prospect — and some of them have gone down, like Diazbarriga. None of them have had nearly the increase of Mirxayan, however, as he climbed from being a 20-rated, 85 mph-throwing reliever into the top prospect in baseball.
It’s hard to say definitively which approach is the better one. After all, Trewartha and Zhang are still both considered top prospects — #41 and #44 on OSA’s big board, respectively — and the vast majority of Cleveland’s signings will never come close to the majors. But for a small fraction of the cost of either of Hershey’s top signings, Cleveland ended up with the best player of any of them. Cleveland cast a wide net, and has been rewarded for its openness to spending money on players likely to never provide any value in return.