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Two Ians Bring In the Crowds

Pitcher Kennedy and third baseman Stewart make La Quinta the top-rated team in Southland and are a magnet for pro scouts.

March 06, 2003|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

This will be easy, Coach Dave Demarest thought, a minor annoyance at worst.

Spend a few minutes on the phone, fax over a couple game schedules and that's all the scouts would need to evaluate Ian Kennedy and Ian Stewart this season.

Demarest has been correct about many things in his 30-year career at Westminster La Quinta.

This time, he was wrong.

As the Aztecs settled into their final week before Friday's opener, 10 to 15 scouts attended Monday's practice, stopwatches and radar guns in hand, notes and numbers scribbled with every pitch or hit by Kennedy and Stewart.

It was one-stop shopping for scouts who got to see arguably the best third baseman and pitcher in the region on the same diamond.

Both have signed with USC. Both are possible first-round choices in the amateur baseball draft.

Demarest sighs over the commotion. Then he laughs.

He went through something like this five years ago, when Bobby Crosby and Gerald Laird were at La Quinta. Crosby and Laird are currently top prospects -- Crosby a shortstop in the Oakland Athletics' organization, Laird a catcher in the Texas Rangers' system.

This is different.

"I thought things were kind of hectic for those two," Demarest said of Crosby's and Laird's senior season. "Now you've got advisors, you've got scouts asking for all these forms to be filled out. They want special workouts, they want this, they want that. It's really hectic."

It's really not surprising.

Kennedy, a 6-foot, 185-pound right-hander, throws between 88 and 92 mph with a surprising degree of control. He had a 0.38 earned-run average last season with 168 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings.

"He's not a work in progress or a big project in terms of his development," USC Coach Mike Gillespie said. "He has a good arm and he has good stuff, but he couples it with good command and poise and composure. He's ready to pitch, not only as he's demonstrated where he is, but for us, and on and on."

As a hitter, Kennedy had seven home runs and 31 runs batted in last season.

Stewart, 6-3 and 205 pounds, had 15 home runs and 49 RBIs last season. A left-handed batter, he hit .505 and scored 48 runs last season. He is rated the No. 36 prospect in the nation by Baseball America magazine. Kennedy is No. 40.

The players have a cozy dilemma if they get drafted with a high pick in June -- go to school or go to work.

Kennedy has retained agent Scott Boras as his advisor. The first 20 pitchers drafted last June signed for at least $1 million.

The first player in the draft, pitcher Bryan Bullington, received a $4-million signing bonus from Pittsburgh.

"It'd be unreal to get what these guys get now," Kennedy said. "When I was younger, I just thought I could never get that much. It's like funny money, Monopoly money."

Financial gain for Kennedy and Stewart would be USC's loss. But it's never easy to predict who goes where on draft day, particularly when there's an entire season to be played.

"The way I look at it, the only guarantee I have right now is that I'm going to USC," Stewart said. "If everything works out and everything is perfect, I guess I'll be signing sometime in the summer. But as of right now, I'm going to USC, which I'm really happy with."

With Kennedy and Stewart, the Aztecs are the nation's top-ranked team in Baseball America's preseason rankings.

La Quinta is 137-15 over the last five years and has won 10 consecutive league titles.

Yet, the Aztecs have something to prove.

They went 29-3 last season, but lost to La Puente Bishop Amat, 2-1, in eight innings in the Southern Section Division IV championship game.

Monday's practice was crisp, a near-perfect early-season rehearsal by the entire team. Was it because the scouts were in attendance?

Or will it be more indicative of La Quinta's whole season?

"From now on, all I have to mention is March 3," Demarest said, "and they can't give me anything less."

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