A nagging hand injury hampered his ability to play last year in San Antonio although in August he gave an indication of what he might be able to do this season hitting .349/.432/.547. This year he was the MadFriars player of the Month for April hitting .410/.520/.705.
We caught up with James to talk about what happened last year, his defense and what he expects of himself this year.
Last year was disappointing for you except for the last month - and I know this is going to be tough to drag this out of you because all of your guys attitude is if I'm on the field I can play, no excuses - but there are also reasons for performance. It seemed at the end of last year, in August, was the first time you were healthy.
James Darnell: Its a valid question that I have been asked a few times. Basically by the end of the year I got used to it. I still have a bit of scar tissue on my right hand and at first they thought it was a cyst. Its just that I bruised it really bad and I got some surgery on it during the off-season but by that time I had gotten used to it.
The last month of the season I was just used to it and now it feels great.
It always seems to me that this game is difficult enough to play when you are healthy let alone not 100%. It must be incredibly frustrating to go out and play and know you are only about 80%.
James Darnell: It's true it is a tough game but also as a competitor you also want to be out there giving the competition your best effort. You always want to be out there and you don't want to be beat regardless of what is wrong.
But right now the hand is good, its a new year and I'm feeling great.
In '09 you had a great year, we've talked about '10 and this year you are hitting really well. There was a perception last year that the big reason you turned around last year also had to do you became more aggressive at the plate. Is there any truth to that?
However when I see you, you seem the same. You wait for your pitch and you try to hit it.
James Darnell: Yeah, that is how you hit [laughs]. You have to be able to sit on a pitch and look for it, and its not always going to be the fastball, change or whatever you need to make adjustments. Pitchers adjust, hitter's adjust. You don't want to be chasing balls out of the zone because that is how you lose your timing. I know how my swing works and when I am going well - power, average, RBIs, walks - it's all of them going.
The big change for me is I'm not missing the pitches that I want to hit. The best advice I got was in spring training was from Jed Hoyer, last year is over. Even if I had a good year, last year is over. Its about what you are doing right now. You can't rest on your laurels, every single year is a test, you have to prove yourself. The competition is out there to get you every single year.
You made an interesting point that you can't just go up there sitting on the fastball. It seems like this is such a small league that everyone knows everybody so well you can't just go up there sitting on an inside fastball. How do you make those type of adjustments. Do you change where or what you are looking for? Maybe looking on the outside part instead of the inside?
James Darnell: Its a constant game of adjustments. Maybe you hit one on the outside that is a breaking pitch, the next time up its a fastball middle in. Plus they are human too and they miss spots just like we miss pitches. When I am at my best I am driving the ball to all fields, hitting off-speed pitches there isn't a lot that I don't feel that I can do out there. The trick is to get there.
One of the critiques on you has always been questions on you is if you can stay at third base. I've been out here early the past few days and it seems like you have someone hitting you grounders at every opportunity. Do you feel like you will be able to stay at third?
James Darnell: Oh yeah. I love all the detractors. Coach Tanner even at South Carolina told me that I might have to move to the outfield and I played shortstop coming out of high school. I just had that shortstop on my angle on my throws to first and it just took some time to get used to it and get comfortable at third. Just talking with Chase [Headley] helped me this spring me with a few things that I need to know. Its a difficult position but also exciting because there are so many things going on.
If you are athletic and can think on the fly, and I think I am, it's a real challenge. In a way you are like a hockey goalie, its about reactions. And to me, that is fun to try to make all the plays. If that ball is coming in my direction, I want it.
Throw in the fact that sometimes the biggest thing you have to do is just knock down the ball, not even make a throw can also really help your team.
Anyone who doubts me that is great. I take that as motivation. First and foremost I want to help the team at the major league level, so I will play wherever they want me too. As long as I got a shot at third base and they want me to play here, and they do, I want to be here.
Playing third also must help your hitting. Because if you take a bad at-bat out to there you can really get hurt.
James Darnell: Oh yeah, you learn that real quick. That is why you get four or five at-bats every night. You are going to get your chances. You have to go up there the same way whether you are four for four or zero for four. You have to have that same confidence.
You hit with a lot of power but not that many strikeouts. How are you able to do that?
James Darnell: If it were up to me I would never strikeout. I just don't like striking out. I always think I can always put the ball in play because I have good hand-eye coordination. Occasionally they are going to get you but I feel that my job is to put the ball in play to try to drive in runs. I'm always looking to hit the ball hard.
What are your biggest goals going into this year.
James Darnell: Get to the major leagues. When you are at the AA level everything you are working on is coming to fruition and you can see it. Everyone one here wants to win every day which is extremely important and become the best player that you can be. For me its about details, improving your fielding, hitting with two strikes...just working to get better every day.