James Darnell, 3B San Diego Padres
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 200
James Darnell has been in the Padres list of top 10 prospects since being drafted out of South Carolina during the 2008 MLB Draft in the 2nd round. He was considered a possible 5 tool talent coming out of college and his power projected out as plus although raw. His bat was never questioned as scouts suggested his hand eye coordination would allow him to hit for average as he progressed. Most considered him a future OF at the time but he’s managed to stay at the hot corner throughout his career.
Out of the gate in a short stint at Eugene in 2008 he showed the power and contact ability with 9 XBH in 67 ABs and only striking out 12 times. 2009 brought much of the same at Fort Wayne and Lake Elisnore where the power jumped to a .259 IsoP which lit up the prospect radars across baseball. So 2010 was a year that should have rocketed Darnell to the majors, but he got off to a slow start and then developed a cyst on his hand which kept him out for 5 weeks. So when he came back from that it was back to the drawing board and it took him until August to really heat up. He hit .349/.432/.547 in the final month of the season. But the slow start and injury masked the potential and those with a short term memory dismissed him.
In 2011 the Padres had Darnell return to Double-A San Antonio to start the season. Well does a .333/.434/.604 line sound kind of familiar? Yeah, the August line wasn’t an anomaly. 25 Doubles and 17 HR later, Darnell was sent up to Triple-A Tuscon where he adjusted quickly and kept the power coming with another 6 HR in 103 AB.
He is already 24 years old. So the power is almost fully developed at this point with maybe a touch more on the way. But even so, a minor league career .200+ IsoP is a very good mark. The fact that it comes along with a potential .290+ AVG and career rates of 10%+ walk rate and K rate of only around 15% is something to keep an eye on. Darnell as a right handed bat even in Petco could continue to produce the power numbers needed to be an everyday 3B. 25 HR seasons aren’t out of the question. I don’t think he’s going to develop into a perennial .300 hitter, but some .300 seasons are also possible.
One of the glaring questions in San Diego is how they will fill the hole that has been at 3B for many years. Is Headly the answer? Darnell? Gyorko who is at Double-A? If it were based on the bat it would be Darnell. But Darnell still hasn’t proven he can handle the hot corner at the highest level. He led Double-A 3B in errors last season but most of that was based on poor throwing mechanics and forcing plays. He’s tamed some of the errors this season holding strong with 12. So if he can hold his own at 3B he has the bat to be successful and Chase Headly will have seen his last start at 3B. If Darnell falters he will find himself in the OF because I beleive his bat will keep him in the majors now.
There are bound to be some growing pains for Darnell as a power hitter… in Petco. But he is a legitimate power threat with good contact ability and the patience to take a walk. So if all falls right there is a solid glove at 3B with a .300/25/100 line ability with a .350+ OBP. Either way I think even if he doesn’t develop fully he’ll have some very good seasons and be a solid regular at 3B or RF for the Padres. I like this kid. Always have. Check out his ranking on our Top 100 Prospect List. I never stopped believing.