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Could Christian Vazquez become Red Sox’ catcher of the future? 08.07.13 at 7:07 am ET
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Christian Vazquez

Christian Vazquez

A familiar scene unfolded late last month at Fenway Park. It was a picturesque July afternoon, and after lineup introductions and the national anthem, the home team took to the field for the top of the first.

Settling in his spot behind the plate was a stocky catcher with a big, red “33” on his back.

But no, it wasn’t Jason Varitek. It was Christian Vazquez, a 22-year-old backstop for Double-A Portland who is heralded for his defense but whose bat remains a work in progress.

He was in town with the Sea Dogs, who played the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate, the Harrisburg Senators, in the annual “Futures at Fenway” game. For the 2008 ninth-round pick, it was a landmark event.

“It’s my first time playing here,” Vazquez said, noting he had visited for a physical when he signed in 2008 and again during the Red Sox’ rookie development program in January. “It’s fun, wearing the 33 [like] The Captain.”

The question now is whether that opportunity to start behind the plate at Fenway represented a future harbinger.

Vazquez finished the contest 1-for-4, his lone hit a grounder deep in the shortstop hole that he beat out. He didn’t throw out any runners, but he didn’t the chance to try, either. None of Harrisburg’s eight baserunners tested the arm of the man who has cut down half (41 of 82) of would-be stealers in 2013.

While that day wasn’t spectacular for Vazquez, it wasn’t terrible, either — much like his season on the whole. He is hitting .277 with a .366 OBP, .394 slugging mark and .760 OPS, a bit better than his career numbers of .260/.342/.394 and .736 in six minor league seasons.

According to Portland hitting coach Rich Gedman, Vazquez has made strides this year, part of which can be seen in his even strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has fanned 37 times and drawn 37 free passes, a far cry from his 79 strikeouts and 48 walks in 2012.

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As Red Sox celebrate silver anniversary of ‘Morgan Magic,’ former Sox skipper recalls memorable season 07.30.13 at 6:12 am ET
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A struggling Red Sox team changes managers and quickly transforms into one of baseball’s best clubs. It’s happened this year with first-year Sox skipper John Farrell, but the turnaround was even more dramatic 25 years ago.

Joe Morgan

After three decades in the minors as a player, coach and manager, local product Joe Morgan finally got his chance to manage in the big leagues when he took over the Red Sox in July 1988, and he made an immediate impact. (AP)

It was 1988 when Joe Morgan — who will be honored by the team before Tuesday night’s game — took over the disappointing 43-42 Red Sox in the middle of July and used “Morgan Magic” to transform them into a division champion.

The Red Sox were nine games behind the first-place Tigers and needed a change. So at the All-Star break, John McNamara was fired and the Red Sox had Morgan, who had been the third base coach, run the club while they looked for a new manager.

“[Morgan] was always making you feel confident in your ability, always talking about the positives that were going to happen, predicting something successful was going to happen and just kind of a down to earth — no arrogance about him,” said Rich Gedman, then the team’s catcher and now in his first year as hitting coach for the Sox’ Double-A affiliate in Portland, Maine. “He was a good baseball guy and just made it simple.”

Morgan’s local roots helped endear him to area fans. The Walpole native was a two-sport star at Boston College, as he led the hockey team in scoring as a junior in 1951-52 and captained the Eagles baseball team that spring. He played parts of four seasons (a total of 88 games, mostly as a third baseman) in the major leagues with five teams and spent 30 years in the minors as a player, manager and coach. As a side job while coaching in the minors, he drove a snowplow on the Massachusetts Turnpike, earning him the nickname “Turnpike Joe.”

Getting a major league managing job was not something that Morgan saw coming in 1988. After all, he was already 57 years old when he finally got his shot.

“I had given up all hope of being a big league manager,” Morgan said this month. “I had applied for the Sox job a couple of times when they made changes and the answer was negative, so when I became a coach there I figured, ‘I’m in the big leagues, but the odds of managing are very thin at my age now.’ ”

He was supposed to simply be an interim manager, as the Red Sox were considering higher-profile managers like Joe Torre and Lou Pinella to fill the role. But Morgan made an immediate impact, and that interim label soon was gone.

The Sox swept a four-game series with the Royals in Morgan’s first series at the helm, winning the third game on a walk-off home run by Kevin Romine in the ninth inning. And the good times didn’t end there, as the team just kept winning. Boston swept the Twins, winning the finale by rallying from two runs down in the 10th inning and walking off on Todd Benzinger‘s three-run home run down the right-field line. Then came a four-game sweep of the White Sox. A victory over the Rangers in the first game of a three-game set made it a dozen straight.

“Before you know it, one game turned into two, two games turned into three and we got on a pretty good roll,” Gedman said. “It was a pretty exciting time when you reel off 12 straight and you’re thinking, ‘Gosh. Let’s keep this going. Get back into things.’ ”

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Red Sox name Dana Levangie bullpen coach 02.05.13 at 6:40 pm ET
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On the cusp of spring training, the Red Sox completed their coaching staff by announcing that longtime scout and staff member Dana Levangie will take over as the team’s bullpen coach and catching instructor, replacing Gary Tuck, who informed the team last week that he was retiring.

Levangie had spent the last seven years as a major league advance scout for the Red Sox. The familiarity with big league hitters that he’s gained in that job represented a considerable attribute for a man who will be charged with overseeing the preparation of relievers as they get ready to enter contests. Indeed, in the press release announcing the hiring of the 43-year-old Levangie, the Sox noted that he will continue to assist in the team’s advance scouting.

“We are extremely pleased to add Dana to the major league staff,” manager John Farrell said in the press release. “He has been a valuable asset to the Red Sox in a variety of roles and his vast knowledge of the Major Leagues, particularly the American League, will enable him to make an impact on our staff and with our bullpen.”

Including his playing career, Levangie has spent 22 years in professional baseball, all of them in the Red Sox organization. He was selected by the team in the 14th round of the 1991 draft and spent parts of six years in the organization, reaching Triple-A for a pair of brief stints. In 1997, he left behind his playing career to become the bullpen catcher in the big leagues for the Sox, a role in which he spent the next eight seasons. In 2005, he moved to pro scouting before joining the advance scouting staff in 2006, a role in which he’s regularly interacted with the big league club.

Levangie emerged from a group of internal candidates that also included minor league catching instructor Chad Epperson and Double-A hitting coach Rich Gedman. His familiarity with big league hitters proved the decisive factor in his selection.

For complete Red Sox coverage, visit weei.com/redsox.

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Jason Varitek not a likely candidate to replace Gary Tuck 01.30.13 at 3:06 pm ET
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Jason Varitek is not expected to join the Red Sox coaching staff this year (AP)

There will come a time, and it may be in the near future, that former Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek can commence his big league coaching career with virtually his pick of jobs. But for now, even though the Red Sox have a newly created need for a bullpen coach and catching instructor on their big league staff with the sudden retirement of Gary Tuck, it does not appear that Varitek is being considered — or even wants to be considered — for a full-time return to uniform, according to a major league source.

Varitek retired because he wanted to spend time with his family, and while the 40-year-old embraced the opportunity to return to the Sox as a special assistant to GM Ben Cherington, that job seemingly represents the work-life balance that Varitek would like to maintain for now. There’s little question that a coaching future is available to him, but for the present, he’s likely to remain in his role.

That, in turn, means that the Sox must work to find a replacement for Tuck with less than two weeks before the official reporting date for pitchers and catchers. Given that compressed timetable, while the Sox had yet to contact candidates about interviews as of Wednesday afternoon, the team plans to select from an internal pool of candidates already within the organization.

Three stand out as fairly obvious:

Chad Epperson spent the last two years as the Sox’ roving catching instructor, a capacity in which he’s worked with the likes of Ryan Lavarnway and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (as well as minor leaguers such as Dan Butler, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart) for years. Last year, when Tuck had to take a leave of absence for personal reasons, Epperson joined the big league staff as his fill-in. He also knows a number of the team’s homegrown pitchers, having coached or managed players like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard, Ryan Kalish, Felix Doubront and Daniel Nava while they were coming up through the system. Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox hire Rich Gedman, Chili Davis, Hal Morris in flurry of personnel moves 01.10.11 at 4:41 pm ET
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The Red Sox announced the following moves in their baseball operations department, which included the hiring of former Sox All-Star catcher Rich Gedman as the hitting coach of the Lowell Spinners, former big league slugger Chili Davis as the hitting coach for Triple-A Pawtucket and longtime Reds standout Hal Morris as a pro scout:

Major League Personnel

Mike Murov has been named Assistant, Baseball Operations after joining the Red Sox as an intern in the baseball operations department last season. He also served as a baseball operations intern with the Reds (2009) and Marlins (2008).

Amateur Scouting

Tom Allison joins the organization as a Regional Crosschecker for the Midwest. He spent the past four years as Director of Scouting for Arizona (2007-10) following seven seasons as a Scouting Crosschecker for Milwaukee (2000-06) and 10 years in the New York Mets organization as an Area Scouting Supervisor (1996-99) and Assistant Scouting Director (1995-96). Allison played as an infielder and coached in the Mets minor league system from 1990-94.

Jon Adkins has been hired as an Area Scout for the Ohio Valley. The former right-handed pitcher concluded a 10-year professional playing career in the Chicago White Sox organization last season and spent parts of six Major League campaigns with the White Sox (2003-05), Padres (2006), Mets (2007) and Reds (2008).

Chris Pritchett joins the Red Sox as an Area Scout for Canada. Primarily a first baseman, he played parts of four Major League seasons with the Angels (1996, 1998-99) and Phillies (2000) and spent 13 total seasons in the minor leagues (1991-2003). He served as hitting coach for Oakland’s Single-A Vancouver affiliate in 2007.

Player Development Read the rest of this entry »

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