Fighting for final spots continues

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Matt Young led the International League with 39 stolen bases last year while hitting .300 and drawing 68 walks for Gwinnett.

That was good enough to earn the 5-foot-8 outfielder an invitation to major league spring training. Few gave him much of a chance to win a spot in Atlanta, though.

With just a few more exhibition games remaining, Young still faces an uphill battle. But at least the odds aren’t quite as steep.

Young, 28, started at second base against the New York Mets on Saturday in Port St. Lucie and had his second straight two-hit game in the 8-2 loss. His average is up to .293 and Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez has liked what he’s seen.

“He’s played all three outfield positions and he can play the infield. He’s put himself in a position to try to win a spot on this team,” Gonzalez said.

It would help if Young was a right-handed hitter rather than left, but he remains a possible roster piece because of his versatility and speed. The Braves aren’t expected to finalize a decision on their bench until they get to Atlanta on Tuesday.

Not drafted, the Texan has been beating the odds and winning over converts throughout his career. After his good season with the G-Braves last year in his first opportunity at Class AAA, he hit .358 this winter in the Mexican Pacific League.

Hicks finds his stroke

Brandon Hicks finally cooled off a little on Saturday, going 0-for-2 with two walks against the Mets. But he is hitting .333 and turning heads with his improvement at the plate.

Hicks struggled offensively last season with Gwinnett and frequent promotions to Atlanta to sit on the bench as infield protection didn’t help. Then he broke a finger late in the season.

But Hicks, known for his defense, has looked much better swinging this spring and hit a two-out homer in the ninth inning to force extra innings against Florida on Wednesday.

Ed Lucas, signed as a minor league free agent, was the favorite to win the final backup infield spot in Atlanta once Diory Hernandez was sent down to Gwinnett on Thursday. Hicks, though, is making it a difficult decision for Gonzalez and the Braves.

Kawakami showcased

Kenshin Kawakami will start today against Philadelphia, and a good outing could help the Braves find a possible taker for the former Japanese standout.

If Kawakami remains with the Braves, he will likely start the year in the G-Braves rotation. Rodrigo Lopez could also end up in Gwinnett, giving manager Dave Brundage two veterans.

Mike Minor, who lost out to Brandon Beachy in the battle to be Atlanta’s fifth starter, will head the Gwinnett rotation. Minor allowed four hits and no earned runs over six innings for the G-Braves in an exhibition game Friday.

The Gwinnett rotation will also feature Todd Redmond, who won nine games each of the past two years. Other candidates include Tim Gustafson and Jacob Thompson.

Gustafson, the former Parkview and Georgia Tech standout, pitched a scoreless inning against the Mets in his Grapefruit League debut Saturday.

Canizares keeps hitting

Barbaro Canizares was 4-for-4 with two doubles and a home run for the G-Braves on Friday, showing that he hasn’t cooled off from last season. The native of Cuba hit .341 in 2010 and won the International League batting title.

The G-Braves defeated Toledo 8-1 on Saturday to snap a four-game losing streak and improve to 3-4 in exhibition play. Gwinnett faces Oklahoma City of the Pacific Coast League today.

Hernandez had a double and a RBI single against Toledo. First baseman Mauro Gomez, who will likely start the season at Class AA Mississippi, had a triple and a single, driving in two runs.