The Braves 25 man roster represents risk aversion at its worst. Bobby Cox has elected to carry 12 pitchers yet again, and with a 4 man starting rotation to begin the season, this means an 8 man bullpen. John Smoltz, Roberto Hernandez, Darren Holmes and Ray King were all guaranteed jobs to start the spring. The last 4 members of the pen are Joe Dawley, Trey Hodges, Jung Bong, and Kevin Gryboski. And that's well nigh inexcusable.
Is it understandable on some levels, I suppose. Cox has got to be worried about the presence of two rookie question marks in his early season rotation, and wants to be well covered in case of any early season blowouts. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you, after all. Jason Marquis has struggled since August of 2002, and Horacio Ramirez is a young pitcher, and young pitcher's get knocked around. But I'd say the Braves are more than covered for that contingency.
If both Marquis and Ramirez get through their turns in the rotation without event, Hodges and Bong are going to become quite proficient at spitting sunflower seeds in the back of the bullpen. All this while the good folks in Richmond, Virginia get to experience the sheer, unadulterated pleasure that comes from witnessing a rotation with Ryan Glynn and Chris Fussell as the first and second starters. Letting Hodges and Bong rot in the Braves bullpen for the sake of double covering insurance policy that is already sound isn't good roster construction.
Of course, there is a chance Hodges and Bong might be needed in the next week or so. However, I feel very comfortable in stating that Kevin Gryboski is of little use to the Braves. Atlanta already has 4 pitchers in the bullpen who can throw one inning (Smoltz, Hernandez, King, Holmes), and that's pretty much what Gryboski is restricted to, one inning. Trying to stretch him to more than one inning is a recipe for disaster, as are his peripherals from last season. Gryboski walked 37 batters in just over 50 innings in 2002, leading to an opponents OBP of .387. He only struck out 33 batters in the same timeframe. His post All-Star ERA stood at a cool 7.56. No strikeouts, no control, and hittability are only slightly lower on the "Ladder o' Bad Combinations" than Robespierre and the guillotine.
None of Mike Hessman, Donzell McDonald, Bo Porter, or Jesse Garcia is going to be a star. But they can all contribute something to a team off the bench. McDonald and Porter can play any outfield position with skill, smack a lefty, and pinch-run. Hessman can be a power bat off the bench, albeit one with no walks and an average low enough to produce a sub-par OBP. And Jesse Garcia has some small value to a team with defensively erratic middle infielders, i.e., the Braves. And all have one thing in common: they can bring more to the Braves roster than a 12th pitcher who's not likely to actually pitch more than once a week.
You'll notice that I didn't pan the addition of Joe Dawley to the roster. That's because he would fill the long-reliever/spot starter role admirably, without stunting the development of an excellent prospect. Dawley, who is 31 years old, has been excellent in the Braves minor league system the last 2 years. A 2.63 ERA in Richmond last season and a 3.04 mark in Greenville in 2001 speak well of the minor league journeyman. So too do his strikeout numbers; typecast as a finesse righty, Dawley has nonetheless struck out 9.21 and 8.27 batters per nine innings in 01 and 02 respectively. A starter during those two seasons, Joe can provide the Braves with some much needed long relief once Byrd and Hampton come off the Disabled List. His presence would allow the Braves to send down Jung Bong (Hodges and Gryboski will almost certainly be gone once the two starters get back) and go with 11 pitchers, bringing up somebody who can actually provide some sort of pop off the bench.
The above comment on the bench shouldn't be taken in too harsh a light. Darren Bragg-Julio Franco-Matt Franco-Mark DeRosa-Henry Blanco isn't a bad bench, really. As backup catchers go, you can do a lot worse than Blanco, even if he is overpaid. Bragg and the Franco's all give the Braves line drive strokes and good OBPs off the bench, with Bragg being a capable fill-in at any of the outfield positions and Julio providing good glovework at first base. DeRosa can be counted on to hit .280-.290, with a wee bit of pop, and that's valuable off the bench. The problem with the Braves reserves is that none of them have much in the way of power. Matt Franco's "HeyLookAtMe!" 2002 season notwithstanding, the long time Met has a career .397 SLG PCT. Julio slugged .382 in 2002, and Bragg .401. DeRosa is the powerhouse of the group, with a .429 mark. The Braves will have a bunch of bench players who will stroke singles and work the count, but no Greg Colbrunns or David Dellucci's who can bash an extra-base hit or homerun in the late innings of a game.