Padres Prospect Interview: James Darnell

A true testament to a prospect's status is how they develop over the course of the season. San Diego Padres prospect James Darnell improved his batting average in every month with Fort Wayne and accomplished the same feat when he went to Lake Elsinore.

One of the things that hitting coach Tom Tornicasa said to me was there were times when you would roll over on contact. What does that mean and how do you correct it?

James Darnell: To me, it means that you have to get your timing straight and your foot down early. We just worked on that pretty consistently. The thing about it is even though I was rolling over on contact, I was hitting the ball hard and getting hits.

Saying that, I could focus on the other little things and soon will be hitting the ball hard to all parts of the field and driving them as far as they should go. If you roll over early, they won't go as far as they should go.

You hit better in every month of the year after going to Lake Elsinore. Was there a little bit of a honeymoon period where you felt like you were pressing a little bit?

James Darnell: Not really. I was really excited to be there. I got sick as soon as I got there. I was trying to get healthy and (Storm manager) Carlos (Lezcano) gave me a little bit of a rest to get my body feeling good. Once I started feeling better and the allergies went away, the play started to pick up.

You had over 20 errors in 2009. Is there a certain aspect of the defensive game that needs assistance?

James Darnell: I think it is one of those things that you just have to keep trying to get better at every aspect of your game. I don't think there is one specific thing.

Working with (roving infield coordinator Gary) Jones, he is always saying, ‘Good footwork leads to good throws.' Jonesy has been a huge help to me all year. I have really enjoyed working with him. Whenever he comes in, he can give you a little bit of a tuneup. That has been really helpful to me and I look forward to continuing working in that area of my game. I know whatever I put my mind to I can accomplish.

You were at one point leading all of the minors in walks and ended up in the top 10. How difficult is it to keep the balance between aggression and patience in waiting for your pitch?

James Darnell: I think the pitchers kind of dictate it. Early in the year, I felt like they were trying to pitch away from me. Then there were spurts where they went right after me because they know I was looking for a good pitch to hit. Then you have to be aggressive. It is kind of a cycle. It goes on and on between them coming right after you and them being patient and waiting to see if you will bite at something.

The whole year was a learning experience. I think I can improve in that category too. There are some at-bats where it is 3-2 and you are not sure if the ump will call it a strike so you go after it. The more and more you do it, the more and more confident you become to go with your instincts and what you believe is right.

Last year, going into instructs, one of the big areas they wanted to see you improve upon was hitting the breaking ball. How have you improved in that area and overall pitch recognition?

James Darnell: For me, it is about hitting the fastball because in these leagues – and pitchers in general – they are trying to establish their fastballs. You are not going to get to the breaking ball if you can hit 95.

In college, it is one of those things where I kind of enjoyed hitting the breaking ball, especially on guys that throw really hard, but this year I have been trying to hit every pitch consistently well. If I get a breaking ball, hit it hard the other way. If it is a fastball, stay on top of it and hit a line drive somewhere. A lot of times, those line drives end up out of the park.

You are a guy who has a studious approach to the game even in the dugout. How often do you see someone tipping pitches?

James Darnell: Once and a while. (Storm hitting coach Shane) Spencer is always trying to keep us in the game. It doesn't matter if he is tipping pitches or falling into a pattern, it is important to watch the game.

I would tell anyone that at any level. It is important to know what the pitchers have or what they are doing and not pay attention to the hype. Just because someone says he is good – he could be doing something that works into your strength. You have to see for yourself what they have.

There are a lot of good pitchers in each league – I have been very impressed.

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