Padres Prospect Interview: James Darnell

Third baseman James Darnell, 23, was a second-round pick by the San Diego Padres in the 2008 draft, and after a very short stay in Eugene, he put up a monster year between Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore in 2009.

As good as Jaff Decker was for the TinCaps, Darnell was better. In the first half of the season, he hit .329/.468/.518 simply blowing away the Midwest League competition. Promoted to the California League in late June, he went on a tear, hitting .318/.410/.600 in August.

The only real flaw critics see in his game is where will be able to play after committing 30 errors at the hot corner for the TInCaps and Storm. Most of the errors were because of bad footwork on throws, and Darnell and the Padres believe he will be able to correct those and stay at the hot corner. Because of his strong arm and athletic ability, he could also become a candidate to play the corner outfield positions.

You had a big year with the bat at Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore last season. The only real criticism of you was your defense at third base. What did you do to improve defensively during the off-season?

James Darnell: In the off-season, I did my normal drills and worked really hard, but when I got to big league camp I was able to work with Glenn Hoffman [the Padres' third base coach and former major league infielder], and he really helped me, especially with using his routine. I mean this is the guy that worked with Kouzmanoff last year, and he only made three errors. So that helped me quite a bit.

It is a brutal infield to play on at Lake Elsinore, not to make any excuses.

James Darnell: [laughs] No, there aren't any excuses, but it is also all a learning experience at these levels, too. You really want to hone your game and develop into the best player that you can possibly be. I'm already athletic, have a good arm and good hands. It's just a question of getting all the pieces to fit together and do it consistently everyday.

When we talk to a lot of people that seems to be the general consensus, that the tools are there to be a good defensive player. It was more a question of footwork with your throws.

James Darnell: Yeah, that is part of it and just being consistent. Making sure that you are doing all the little things well. I love playing third. I grew up playing shortstop, and once I moved over there, it was just a question of becoming comfortable with it. Now that I've learned some of those few little things, it becoming easier.

Hitting wise the first thing that really jumps out is your patience. The Padres have always preached that they want to develop the type of hitters that you are, patience and power, but I've found most of the guys that do it have played like that there whole lives. Is that true with you too?

James Darnell: Yeah, and I like to work the pitcher - without giving away too much of the game plan - go up there and see what he is trying to do. Being aggressive is what works with some guys, other ones you have to wait it out. I know a lot of guys, especially in this organization, have a good game plan. Shane Spencer, our hitting coach last year in Lake Elsinore, really used to preach that; make sure you have an idea of what you are trying to do when you step into the box.

When I see you guys, all of you are looking for a pitch you can drive, which is usually middle or middle-in. What happens when you get up to the more advanced levels where someone can spin a so-so curve or throw a weak slider on the outside corner? Do you start looking to go the opposite way? How do you adjust to that?

James Darnell: Power wise, I do like the inside, but on the outside part is where I work everyday and pretty much where I look to go during the at-bat. When I take balls off of the tee that is where I am trying to go mainly because it keeps my swing good. If you are hitting the ball well, that is what you are trying to do.

Talking to Tony Gwynn Jr. and Adrian (Gonzalez) in big league camp, that is what you should be trying to do.

Because if it comes inside you are quick enough to turn on it.

James Darnell: Yes, it's much easier to really turn on the ball when it comes inside to generate power.

What part of your game are you looking to improve upon in San Antonio?

James Darnell: So far, as you move up, you have to be more consistent at all areas. I go to work everyday really excited and with a positive attitude and try to think of every aspect of the game.

I always ask you guys if there is a difference between leagues and most of you usually reply that you are much more worried about getting the best out of your own ability. Is it that way with you too?

James Darnell: Sure, absolutely. At every level, there are better players, but I also believe if I keep doing the right things I am also going to get better too.

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