Athlete Update: Darnell leading all Padres minor league hitters

James Darnell is moving closer to that day in the big leagues. A GS athlete since the eight grade he continues to return every off season to work on his movement, speed and power. He follows emailed workouts to the “T” and stays in incredible shape. Continued success and thanks for helping out at our infielder clinics. – Aaron, Gamespeed

Darnell leading all Padres minor league hitters


Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 11:42 a.m.

James Darnell says not a day goes by when he doesn’t think about playing in the major leagues.

“I think about the Padres every day,” the 24-year-old third baseman said earlier this week. “You have to say to yourself ‘this is a great opportunity’ then go out and do it.

“I’m here to show people I’m a major-league player.”

Darnell has certainly been showing what he can do over the first three-plus weeks of the minor league season.

He is hitting .410 for Double-A San Antonio after swinging in the .500 neighborhood for the first two weeks. In addition to 32 hits, Darnell has drawn 19 walks for a .520 on-base percentage.

He also has 11 doubles and four homers for a .720 slugging percentage.

It is Darnell, and not Anthony Rizzo, who leads the Padres organization in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS.

It is also Darnell who finds himself in a traffic jam at perhaps the Padres deepest position in prospects. Four of the top six hitters in the organization are third basemen spread over the top three levels.

And the incumbent with the Padres, Chase Headley, is only 27 come May 9.

Triple-A third baseman Jesus Guzman, 26, is hitting .344 with one homer and 19 RBI at Tucson. And Jedd Gyorko (.380-5-21) and Edinson Rincon (.369-1-14) are splitting time between third and designated hitter for Single-A Lake Elsinore.

Gyorko, 22, was the Padres second-round pick in last June’s draft. Rincon, 20, was signed out of the Dominican Republic.

The Padres last year moved another third base prospect, Logan Forsythe, to second.

“There’s nothing wrong with having a lot of good players battling for jobs,” said Darnell, the 69th overall player taken in the 2008 draft out of the University of South Carolina. “It’s when there’s no competition that nothing is gained.”

Darnell was the Padres Minor League Player of the Year in 2009 when he hit .311 with 20 homers and 81 RBI while splitting the season between low Single-A Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore.

But his progress hit a bump in the road last year. Actually, it was a bump in his hand – a cyst that forced Darnell to miss a month and limited him to .265 with 10 homers and 50 RBI in just 101 games at San Antonio.

He had surgery last winter to remove the cyst and surrounding scar tissue.

“The bad thing is that I got used to playing with it,” said Darnell. “I didn’t know what a difference it would be to play without it. I had a good spring (in the Padres major league camp) and gone on from there.

“Health is so important. I feel right now like this is the way I’d always played . . . this is what I am capable of doing. I’m able to put in the work and let my ability and skills take over.”

Darnell is one of five Missions batting .320 or better in a ballpark not know for its offensive numbers.

Center fielder Blake Tekotte is off to a .375 start. Catcher Kyle Phillips is batting .344. Right fielder Carroll Sawyer is hitting .333. And shortstop Beamer Weems is hitting .324.

In addition, first baseman Cody Decker (10 homers, 22 RBI) and left fielder Jaff Decker (8-27) have combined for 18 homers and 49 RBI in 23 games. Tekotte has six homers and 20 RBI.

“We’ve got a lot of guys here who can hit,” said Darnell.

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