In the end, James Darnell’s athleticism and work ethic were worth the splurge.
The San Diego Padres shelled out well over the slot recommendation to sign the former USC third baseman Friday morning. Darnell will earn $740,000 in his first professional contract, approximately $150,000 over the suggested offer for the No. 69 overall pick in this year’s amateur draft.
Darnell, who batted .306 with 19 homers and a team-high 81 RBIs as a junior, will report today to the Eugene Emeralds of the short-season Northwest League after taking batting practice and watching his new team play host to Philadelphia at Petco Field.
“It’s a real blessing, something to think about,” Darnell said of the contract. “It puts things in perspective. You’re playing the game of baseball. It’s your career and you’re being paid to play it. You think to yourself, ‘What an opportunity.’ “
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For a time, it appeared a deal would not get done. Padres scouting director Grady Fuson apparently took umbrage to what he perceived to be arrogance during the early negotiations.
“It’s a good, old-fashioned staredown with some of these guys,” Fuson told the North County Times earlier this month. “Darnell had two teammates go (in the first round) in the draft and he thinks he’s better.”
USC coach Ray Tanner said Fuson was probably misinterpreting Darnell’s passion to play and confidence in his abilities.
“He’s a very confident young man and very driven, but not arrogant or egotistical,” Tanner said. “He has worked extremely hard to get where he is today.”
Darnell added he was where he was today due in large part to the support he received in Columbia.
“It was just a great experience. I can’t say enough about the people and the fans for making me welcome,” he said. “The first year, so far away from home, was tough on me, but every member of the club and all the fans in the stands still knew my name even though I was on the bench half the time.”
Meanwhile, the first Gamecock selected in this year’s draft took his stalemate with the Texas Rangers down to the deadline.
USC career home run leader Justin Smoak and the Rangers remained far apart on the final details of his contract as time ticked away. According to news reports in the Dallas media, not only were the two sides haggling over the bonus (suspected to be roughly $1.2 million above slot), but the insistence on a big league contract.
On his blog for the Dallas Morning News, Rangers beat writer Evan Grant indicated the Rangers’ unwillingness stemmed from the development of another first baseman, Chris Davis. According to Grant, Davis’ stock rocketed from the time of the draft to today thanks to a torrid June that led to a big-league promotion.
Said Grant: “Though he’s slumped slightly (in Texas) over the last couple of weeks, Davis’ performance to date should only reinforce to the Rangers they have a first baseman for the next six years. ... They can trust the position to Davis, barring injury.”
Smoak’s status was not known at press time.
Reach Obley at (803) 771-8473.