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03/08/11 5:30 PM ET

Padres expecting big things from Darnell

PEORIA, Ariz. -- It was during the Padres' rookie development program in January when general manager Jed Hoyer told third-base prospect James Darnell to essentially dismiss the 2010 season.

"The best thing I heard when I came to San Diego was when Jed said, 'Last year is over.' I was happy to hear that," Darnell said.

Moving forward has never been a problem for Darnell, who is regarded as one of the Padres' top Minor League prospects.

He was more than happy to move past 2010 when he struggled during his first year with Double-A San Antonio, as he was dogged by a troublesome "stress mass" that appeared on his right hand in May and gave him fits all season.

Darnell missed close to five weeks because of what, on appearances alone, looked like a cyst. There was no fluid, but he said he thought the injury was initially caused by a bruise that essentially became traumatized and swollen.

"I had two options," Darnell said. "I could either have surgery, or wait until the end of the season to get it removed."

Darnell hit .215 in the first half of the season at a ballpark in San Antonio that suppresses offense much like PETCO Park does. Darnell rebounded in the second half, hitting .297, including .349 in August.

In short, Darnell learned to play with the stress mass on his hand.

"By the end of the year, I was used to it," Darnell said. "The last month of the season was more of how I can really play."

The Padres saw how Darnell, 24, could play in 2009 when he was named by the team as the top offensive player in the organization. He had the fourth-best on-base percentage in the Minor Leagues (.424) between stops that season with Class A Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore.

Darnell is hitting .500 with one home run in eight at-bats this spring. Playing time at third base hasn't been easy to come by with Chase Headley and Jorge Cantu getting at-bats in camp, and it hasn't helped that Darnell has been sidelined with the flu the last few days.

But the Padres are hoping for big things from Darnell once the season begins, as he will likely be the Opening Day starter at third base for Triple-A Tucson.

"JD is prototypical third baseman, good size and strength -- what they are supposed to look like," said Randy Smith, the Padres' director of player development. "We are expecting him to build on his fantastic August and have a big year in 2011."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.