Alex Cora

Red Sox hire ex-Astros coach Craig Bjornson as bullpen coach

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Red Sox hire ex-Astros coach Craig Bjornson as bullpen coach

BOSTON -- The Red Sox plan to bring another staffer from the world champion Astros to coach alongside manager Alex Cora.

According to sources, the new Red Sox bullpen coach will be Craig Bjornson. Bjornson, who was hired by the Astros ahead of the 2014 season, started his coaching career in 1999 with the Vermont Expos. Bjornson pitched in the Astros system from 1991-93, making 81 appearances.

Bjornson, who was widely liked by players, was not going to return to the Astros for the 20l18 season. 

Bullpen coaches aren't usually in the spotlight. But during the World Series, Bjornson had a memorable moment when he immediately confronted a fan who jumped into the Astros' bullpen in Los Angeles.

Ramon Vazquez hiring shores up area Red Sox were lagging

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Ramon Vazquez hiring shores up area Red Sox were lagging

BOSTON — Everyone says they use analytics, and you need to combine scouting reports and numbers and all that. Take some of this, take some of that. Every. Body. Says it. Front office, coaches, etc.

When it comes to analytics on the field, the trick is to have people who can communicate the information well, make everything digestible for coaches and players and so forth. But ultimately, it’s quite difficult to tell from afar how well this occurs behind the scenes — particularly when it’s not exactly clear what’s going on behind the scenes everywhere else.

Yeah, you’re doing it, but could you be doing more of it, or applying it more efficiently? Doing it better?

As new Red Sox manager Alex Cora shapes his coaching staff, there’s tangible evidence the Sox were lagging.

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They’ve hired former Sox infielder Ramon Vazquez to be a “liaison between the major league club’s advance scouting and statistical analysis efforts, for the purpose of presenting information to players and coaches.”

Another ex-big leaguer, Alex Cintron, filled that role behind the scenes in Houston, Cora explained Wednesday.

“He was right next to our advance [scouting] team and he was a filter and a guy that helped the players connect with the advanced team,” Cora said Wednesday of Cintron. “There was certain information that players sometimes get scared of, but the way we communicate the information to the players was very positive and Alex was a very big part of it. I always envisioned my staff to have somebody like that. 

“Ramon, we played winter ball together since 1996. We see the game the same way. We were taught the game by the same coaches. I talk about Sandy Alomar Sr., and Ramon sees the game the same way.”

Ex-players who are up to speed fill this type of role well because they speak the players’ and coaches’ language. 

Vazquez is going to be working closely with Steve Langone, who is now the team’s manager for advance scouting. J.T. Watkins is the advance scouting assistant.

What’s next for the Sox? They should consider that the Astros have had similar positions to this one in their minor league system for a couple years now.

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Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie a local success story

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Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie a local success story

BOSTON — Their pitching coach was under their nose the whole time.

The Red Sox announced on Nov. 2 that Dana LeVangie would reprise his role as bullpen coach in 2018 under new manager Alex Cora. Six days later, LeVangie — the bullpen coach for five years under former John Farrell — has been elevated to pitching coach, replacing Carl Willis.

The 48-year-old LeVangie drew interest from other organizations this winter and could wind up a bench coach and then a manager someday. So far, he’s only known one organization: the 2018 season will be his 28th with the Sox.

MORE: Cora plans to walk fine line between friendship and authority

Cora had no desire to let LeVangie go anywhere else, either.

"Very impressed with Dana since when I played here," Cora said Wednesday. "He understands the game. Seems like we talk the same language as far as the game. When everyone started talking about me being a manager, he was a guy I always considered would be part of my staff. He is well prepared and versatile enough that he can work with catchers and be a pitching coach."

Born in Brockton and currently an East Bridgewater resident, LeVangie has stayed in the area the whole time. He went to college first at Cape Cod Community before transferring to American International. 

The Sox drafted LeVangie in the 14th round in 1991. He played in the Sox system for six years, reaching as high as Triple-A. From 1997-2004 he was the Sox' major league bullpen catcher. Then he was a pro scout for a year, and a major league advance scout for seven, through 2012.

“I guess being a local kid, being a Red Sox fan growing up, having a not-so-successful high school career but [being] more successful in my college days, getting drafted by the Boston Red Sox, playing six years in the minor leagues, going into my 28th year — it’s been an incredible ride,” LeVangie said. “I’ve done a lot of things for the team. I’ve enjoyed every role I’ve served in. 

“This is something I didn't envision myself doing. But I think my experience throughout the game, experience dealing with the players has grown throughout my time and I guess more than anything my commitment to the players, my commitment to the pitchers just continues to drive me to be the best [person i can to put these pitchers and players in position to have success. It keeps going forward and I’m just happy for the opportunity.”

What makes LeVangie a rarity is his catching background. Most pitching coaches were, well, pitchers.

LeVangie might not have learned more at any other time in his career than when he was the bullpen catcher. 

“It allowed me to really lock in on mechanics, movement of the baseball, spin of the baseball, identifying specifics of a pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses,” LeVangie said. “And trying to identify what makes a pitcher have success and continued success. So, I think back in the day I started to learn that. I’ll continue to learn more as we go forward, but, you know, I’ve learned a lot from Jason [Varitek] throughout the days of my time here, communicating with him. But you know I think our, as baseball coaches as baseball people, we use our eyes. The eyes usually tell us a lot of the things we want to know and our eyes will tell us a lot of the information that’s out now: spin rates and movement and how we can make these guys successful. So I don’t think it’s going to be a big adjustment, but it’s something I’ve worked hard at: trying to identify things sooner rather than later. So it will be an easier adjustment for me.”

Cora said the Sox are considering internal and external candidates to fill the bullpen coach vacancy, the lone one remaining on the staff. 

Brian Bannister remains in the organization, but Cora did not specify whether Bannister will be in uniform again next year. Bannister's most recent title was dual: vice President of pitching development and assistant pitching coach. He's a pitch data expert as well as an ex-big leaguer.

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