Darnell's turn as DH in Futures a step to bigs
Outfield propect Fuentes gets two at-bats with World squad
PHOENIX -- Last month, Padres third base prospect James Darnell stepped away from tormenting Texas League pitchers long enough to take a phone call from San Diego general manager Jed Hoyer.
"He said that, 'You're doing a great job at third base and we love what you are doing,'" Darnell said Sunday before getting a start as the designated hitter for the US Team in the XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field.
"He said [the Padres] want to make me more versatile to help get my bat up to the big league level."
After a lost season in 2010, the 24-year-old has more than just reappeared on the Padres radar, he's potentially expediting his timetable for arriving in San Diego, as he's having one of the best seasons among all Minor League position players in the game.
Darnell and outfielder Reymond Fuentes, who played for the World Team, represented the Padres' organization in the Futures Game.
Darnell went 0-for-3 with a walk, flying out to the warning track in center field in his first at-bat. Fuentes entered the game in the sixth inning and was 0-for-2, making the last out as the US defeated the World, 6-4.
It's been quite a first half for Darnell.
"He's just had a phenomenal season to this point," said Randy Smith, the Padres director of player development, of Darnell. "We asked JD to be more aggressive and drive the baseball. He's been a great student, hitting for power, average with more walks than strikeouts."
Darnell, between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Tucson, has a .334/.431/.623 slash line this season with 20 home runs, 67 RBIs and 53 walks over 305 at-bats while mostly playing third base, though at the urging of the front office, he's on the move defensively.
The Padres have had Darnell play in left field with San Antonio and Tucson in addition to getting his repetitions at third base.
Darnell has taken well to left, a position he played some in college at South Carolina. He's played some first base as well, though he admitted Sunday that he is not nearly as comfortable at that corner of the infield.
"His defense has improved at third base and he looks natural in left field. He just needs to stay healthy and continue the path he is on," said Smith.
In Darnell's mind, whatever helps get him to San Diego quicker, he's all for.
"I know a lot of times you sort of solidify your position once you get there," Darnell said. "I think of Chase Headley ... he came in and played left field because [Kevin] Kouzmanoff was playing third.
"I love playing third base. I know that I can do it there. But you want to get to San Diego as fast as possible."
Darnell was slowed in 2010 with a stress mass that appeared on his right hand in May and gave him fits all season. He missed close to five weeks because of the injury, which was essentially a bruise that became traumatized and swollen.
"I think it's easier with my hand being able to get through that inside pitch. Last year I felt I was hitting more to right field because I didn't want to apply pressure to the hand," Darnell said. "This year I'm healthy and I'm able to let it go."
Fuentes has been on the go as well, stealing 34 bases in 44 attempts with Class A Lake Elsinore this season. Fuentes, one of four players obtained in December from the Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, has made a nice impression on his new organization.
Fuentes is hitting .287 with 25 RBIs and a.359 on-base percentage. He has 31 walks in his first 77 games, a number the Padres would like to see increase.
"Rey is on track and has not missed a step in joining a new organization," Smith said. "We have impressed upon him the importance of perfecting his speed game; bunting for hits, increasing walk rate. He has improved in all areas.
"His game fits perfectly for PETCO -- tremendous speed, long strides, a graceful runner. He needs to continue to work on refining his game."