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Young, Hicks make the cut

File Photo<br> Matt Young takes a swing during a Gwinnett Braves game last season.

File Photo
Matt Young takes a swing during a Gwinnett Braves game last season.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Matt Young made Atlanta’s opening day roster. So did Brandon Hicks, beating even longer odds.

Young and Hicks are feel-good stories of the spring, especially Young. But the promotions leave Gwinnett with even more new faces for 2011.

Manager Dave Brundage already knew he’d have plenty, although the final decisions about who is in Gwinnett won’t be formalized until next weekend.

Braves, Twins swap pitchers

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The Atlanta Braves acquired minor league reliever Billy Bullock from Minnesota on Monday in exchange for the Twins being able to retain left-handed pitcher Scott Diamond.

Diamond, 24, was selected from Atlanta in the 2010 Rule 5 Draft and would have needed to stay on the Twins’ major league roster if the deal couldn’t have been worked out. He was 4-1 with a 3.36 ERA at Class AAA Gwinnett last season after posting a 5-10 record and 3.50 ERA for Class AA Mississippi.

Bullock, 23, had 27 saves and 105 strikeouts in 74 innings over 58 appearances last year with Class A Fort Myers and Class AA New Britain. The right-hander was a second-round draft choice in 2009.

Eight players who were with the G-Braves last season will be in Atlanta. Others, including two-time AAA All-Star Game selection Wes Timmons, are now in other organizations.

On Sunday, Young, Hicks and reliever Cristhian Martinez — another 2010 G-Brave — were told by Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez that they were on the team. Also not among the cuts was Brooks Conrad, a regular-season hero but playoff goat last season.

Of those getting to start the season in the majors, the most excited was Young. After all, he had spent six seasons in the minors with the Atlanta organization.

“Fredi told me and I kind of blacked out, like in ‘Old School,’” Young said.

Young, who hit .300 and stole 39 bases for Gwinnett last season, showed his vesatility by playing all the outfield spots and second base this spring. He also showed that he could hit left-handers, which convinced the Braves they didn’t need another right-handed bat for the bench instead.

Young hit .286 with a .406 on-base percentage during exhibition play and Hicks put up even better numbers. Known for his glove, the shortstop batted .314 and had a home run with two outs in the ninth inning that sent a game into extra innings.

“You can’t advertise that it’s an open competition and then not give it to the guys who deserve it,” Gonazalez said.

“I feel 100 times better than last year,” said Hicks, who hit just .211 with the G-Braves. “I feel more athletic. I’m working on staying through the ball and just getting ready a little bit earlier than I was last year.”

Sent to the minors by Atlanta on Sunday were veteran pitchers Kenshin Kawakami and Rodrigo Lopez, catcher J.C. Boscan, infielder Ed Lucas and outfielder Wilkin Ramirez.

Veteran reliever Scott Proctor was released and outfielder Joe Mather was placed on outright waivers.

Lopez and Kawakami could both be in the Gwinnett rotation, but the latter may start the season at Class AA Mississippi. Kawakami, a former star in Japan, spent time with the G-Braves last season after going 1-10 in Atlanta. Lopez was 7-16 with Arizona last season and allowed 37 homers, the most in the majors.

Lucas was signed as a minor league free agent and can play anywhere in the infield. He spent seven years in the Kansas City organization and hit .307 last season for Omaha in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League.

Mather, claimed off waivers from St. Louis last November, was expected to make the team as a right-handed bat off the bench. But the outfielder hit just .137 this spring.

If he is not claimed, Mather could still end up in Gwinnett. But the G-Braves already appear to have a crowded outfield with Ramirez, Jordan Schafer, Brent Clevlen and Jose Constanza, who hit .319 with 34 stolen bases for Columbus last year and made the International League all-star team.

The Gwinnett bullpen is well stocked even without Martinez. The relief corps includes Jairo Asenscio, who led the IL with 27 saves as Luis Valdez in 2009, Cory Gearrin, Stephen Marek and Juan Abreu.

Mike Minor, who lost out in the battle with Brandon Beachy for rotation spot in Atlanta this spring, is scheduled to head the Gwinnett starting staff. But he could be recalled by the Braves if Jair Jurrjens isn’t ready to start the season after experiencing discomfort near his right ribcage last week.

The Braves will play the Minnesota Twins in exhibition games tonight and Wednesday at Turner Field before going to Washington for opening day against the Nationals on Thursday.

Players with Atlanta who spent at least part of last season in Gwinnett are Beachy, first baseman Freddie Freeman, outfielder Nate McLouth and relievers Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel in addition to Young, Hicks and Martinez.

Gwinnett, which does return International League batting champ Barbaro Canizares, will break camp in Florida next Sunday. The opener is April 7 against Durham at Coolray Field.