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Stewart earns uncommon praise
06/19/2006 5:44 PM ET
LOS ANGELES -- Among the hundreds of congratulatory messages left for Ned Colletti when he was named Dodgers general manager was one from an agent who represented two prospects in the organization that he insisted were ready for the Major Leagues.

And aren't they all?

Except that Dave Stewart isn't your normal baseball agent. And Matt Kemp and Chad Billingsley aren't your normal prospects.

"I took it with a little more than a grain of salt because of Stew and the respect I have for him," said Colletti. "I'm actually really glad he represents two players with the upside of Kemp and Billingsley. Stew was one of the great competitors in the game. He's a championship man who was on championship teams and having that kind of insight and ability that he can communicate to the players and the club gives him a unique message, from my perspective."

Stewart has proved as capable of judging talent on the field as he was being the talent on the field. The former Dodgers pitcher who has three World Series rings and four 20-win seasons, turned to representing ballplayers when his front office career stalled short of the general manager's office.

Now he's got a growing stable of clients that includes a pair of 21-year-old Dodger rookies that other agents drool over.

Kemp jumped from Double-A three weeks ago and has continued a rare knack for improving every time he's promoted. Billingsley has made only one appearance since his Major League arrival, but it was the most impressive Dodgers pitching debut this side of Edwin Jackson.

This spring, Stewart said Billingsley would go on to a career "way better" than his and that Kemp had leaped past every position player in the organization and deserved to make the Opening Day roster.

In general, agents and hype are interchangeable. But it looks like Stewart wasn't kidding.

"I wouldn't have said it if I didn't mean it. You know me," said Stewart. "Chad has the ability to be a Hall of Famer if he stays on track and doesn't lose focus. And I told you in Spring Training I thought Matt was ready to play in the big leagues.

"I don't say that because I represent them or I'm their friend. I've watched a lot of players come and go in this game. I've seen great players and I've seen players that should have been great players, but weren't. I watched Matt during the winter. I watched his determination. I watched him hang with Major Leaguers like Junior Spivey and ask me questions and just soak in the information like a sponge.

"I'd like to take the credit for getting them there, but for Matt, Junior has been his inspiration and for Chad, I think his father has been the good example for him. I just step in when I can help."

That means lining up a residence on the fly or arranging transportation after a call-up or talking up their confidence during a rare slump. The workload for an agent of young players is great, and the payoff nominal, unless -- and not until -- the players have served enough Major League time with enough success to earn significant income.

"I hope they make Stew a ton of money," said Colletti. "It's a tough road. It's not easily accomplished, as Stew knows. You go through the ups and downs and hit crossroads and have to turn it up a notch and up another notch and on and on. They've got Stew in their ear and he did it himself and knows how it works and can try to keep them on the right path.

"I rarely comment on an agent representing our players, but in Stew's case, it's an advantage to the player and to the club. I have a lot of respect for the man and he never played on a club that I worked for. But it's respect from afar."

Stewart, 49, retired in 1995. He served as a pitching coach and special assistant to the GM in San Diego and was assistant GM in Toronto before entering his current field.

"Both Chad and Matt will tell you, I'm more of a friend than an agent," he said. "I watch over them. I told Carl Kemp and Jim and Denise Billingsley that I'll watch over them like they were my sons and I've done nothing short of that. I want to make sure they do this in the right way. That's my goal in this business. I feel like they're my kids and they're making me proud."

Stewart said what sets Kemp and Billingsley apart, aside from ability, is their makeup and work ethic.

"I know what's inside, how they work, their discipline and off-field habits," he said. "They dream of being great players."

Stewart said his players caught a couple of breaks this year, not only because injuries and slumps left the Dodgers looking for help, but that Colletti and manager Grady Little were willing to give the kids a shot and not seek outside solutions.

"A lot of organizations -- and some past Dodgers organizations -- wouldn't be comfortable bringing up 21-year-olds and letting them play," said Stewart. "A lot of clubs make young players wait too long in the Minor Leagues and they lose the glimmer and spark. The Dodgers were brave to bring them up and let them play. Ned and Grady only saw them play a little in the spring. They didn't have a lot to go on. That takes a lot of confidence."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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