You’ve heard it ever since Jed Hoyer and his team took the reins down here at PETCO Park: The key to winning in San Diego is drafting and developing players who will make an impact at the Major League level. As we approach two years into Hoyer’s tenure, the Padres minor league system has vastly improved, ranking as the eighth strongest this year according to Baseball America (compared to 29th two years ago).
The talent behind this improvement is getting closer and closer to PETCO Park. In an attempt to make sure you know who these guys are when they get here, we will be profiling some of the Padres top prospects over the next few days. Today…meet James Darnell.
Darnell, born January 19, 1987 (age 24), played his collegiate ball at the University of South Carolina before he was signed by the Padres as a second-round selection (69th overall) in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. He has slugged his way through the Padres minor league system, already seeing action at Short-A Eugene, Single-A Fort Wayne, Advanced-A Lake Elsinore, Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Tucson before making his Major League debut this week.
He earned his promotion by hitting a combined .317 with a .415 oBP and .573 SLG between San Antonio and Tucson this year, belting 23 homers. He obliterated Texas League pitching, hitting safely in 57 of 76 games with 24 two-hit games, six three-hit games and one four-hit game. He hit over .300 against both lefties and righties in the TL and has hit a combined .406 against lefties between San Antonio and Tucson this year.
A third baseman by trade, Darnell has also seen time in the outfield in 2011. He has posted a .935 fielding percentage at the hot corner this year, committing just 11 errors in 170 chances.
Darnell’s success at the plate 2011 has been recognized outside of the organization as he was named to the 2011 US Futures Team and Texas League All-Star Team, where he was selected as the game’s MVP after knocking a two-run homer.
Over his four seasons in the Padres system, Darnell has hit a combined .304 (399-for-1313) with 95 doubles, seven triples, 56 home runs, 229 RBI, 220 runs scored, a .404 OBP and .515 SLG. He was named the Padres Minor League Player of the Year following his 2009 performance (split between Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore).
Darnell was a college teammate of 2008 first-round picks Justin Smoak and Reese Havens at the University of South Carolina.