Former big league infielder Alex Cora , who spent 14 years in the big leagues including four with the Red Sox  from 2005-08, is now serving as the general manager of the Caguas Criollos of the Puerto Rican Winter League. Cora assembled a team that cruised to the best record in the regular season, giving him the first pick in an end-of-season draft of the players who were on the two teams that didn’t qualify for the playoff round robin.
That pick, in turn, offered a fairly obvious prize: veteran big leaguer Javier Vazquez.
The 36-year-old hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2011, choosing to stay at home for the 2012 season. But Vazquez, who sports a career 165-160 record and 4.22 ERA in 14 big league seasons, stayed in shape in 2012 by playing tennis and doing various cross-training activities, putting him in a position to prepare to pitch for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic  this spring. As part of that preparation, Vazquez has now pitched in five winter league games, forging a 3.52 ERA with 30 strikeouts and six walks in 23 innings for Ponce before Cora selected him to join Caguas for the playoffs.
In the process, he’s looked, according to Cora, like the same pitcher who dominated in the big leagues at the end of 2011. Vazquez was 5-0 with a 0.71 ERA, 36 strikeouts and three walks in 38 innings for the Marlins in September 2011, earning NL Pitcher of the Month honors in his last month in the big leagues. That was the culmination of a stretch of 19 season-ending starts in 2011, during which Vazquez went 10-5 with a 1.92 ERA, 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings and just 1.4 walks per nine.
“It’s the same stuff that he had towards the end of the 2011 season. In the first half, his velocity was down. He wasn’t as sharp with his cutter. Now, he’s throwing the ball hard. Javy’s a pitcher, he repeats his windup, it seems like he repeats it every time,” Cora said on WEEI’s Red Sox Hot Stove Show on Thursday night. “The ball is coming out of his hand clean. He looks good, man. He throws strikes. He’s a strike-thrower. When his stuff is about 92, like it is right now, he’s very successful because he pounds the strike zone.
“His velocity is up. He’s in great shape,” added Cora. “Every outing, he feels better.”
While Vazquez’s goal has been to pitch for Puerto Rico, he’s also garnered interest from big league teams while preparing for WBC play. Cora said that the Nationals and, he believes, Blue Jays have been among the teams to scout Vazquez, who is a free agent, and the Sox and other teams are expected to attend the right-hander’s playoff start for Caguas on Friday night. If the veteran continues to show the sort of stuff that he’s displayed to this point in Puerto Rico, then after the WBC, Cora feels he should be in position to choose between enticing possibilities should he want to return to the big leagues.
“As of right now, he just wants to pitch for us and get ready for the WBC for Puerto Rico,” said Cora. “Like I’ve been telling people, it’s up to him. If he wants to pitch, somebody will offer him a good contract and he’ll be in a good situation.”
Cora also discussed Red Sox prospect Anthony Ranaudo. The right-hander made four appearances for the Criollos before a minor groin injury cut short his stint in Puerto Rico after just four outings.
“Before Anthony got hurt, I saw a kid who wants to pitch. He’s been having health issues. But he got here the first day or practice, and he went through every workout in October. He was very willing to do whatever he asked us to do,” said Cora. “Stuff-wise, you could see why he was a high draft pick. It’s just a matter of him being healthy. I don’t know what the plan is, for him to go to Double-A or Triple-A, but his stuff is going to come into play. It’s just a matter of him, like I said, stay healthy, go through a full season and see where he ends up.”
To listen to the complete interview, click here .