Tyler Marlette had to think for a few seconds when asked recently about his feelings on starting the season at Double-A for the first time in his career.
The Arkansas Travelers' catcher is no stranger to the level, having spent some time there in each of the last three seasons. But the difference this year came when he left Seattle Mariners' Spring Training and headed straight to the Double-A club, a subtle indication that his progress has taken a significant step.
"I had no idea, to be honest with you," said Marlette, ranked as the No. 22 prospect in the Mariners' system. "I don't really care. Wherever they put me, I just want to go play and try to put up good numbers and help the pitching staff get through innings and win baseball games."
Marlette didn't do cartwheels into Dickey-Stephens Park to start this season, but he does relish the opportunity to play a full season at the level for the first time.
A fifth-round pick by the Mariners out of high school in 2011, Marlette reached Double-A for the first time in 2014, when he spent nine games at Jackson in the Southern League.
He reached Double-A in 2015 and 2016, too, but in each of those three years he started in Class A Advanced. In 2015, he struggled at both levels, hitting a combined .239 with just eight home runs, before rebounding last year to hit a combined .277 with 15 home runs.
Video: Arkansas' Marlette mashes grand slam to left-center
That led to an Arizona Fall League invite and a chance at big league camp, where he went 3-for-7 with a double, before his start in Arkansas. He's hitting .273 with seven home runs, three of which are grand slams, 10 doubles and 44 RBIs following Wednesday's games.
"This shows that the Mariners organization, that they like me," Marlette said. "As long as I'm getting some at-bats and continuing to play, it doesn't matter where I play."
Now it's up to Marlette to take advantage of the opportunity.
He did so early, tallying five multi-hit games through the season's first two weeks, before a slump saw his average dip to .243 in May. It was at .260 on May 27, but he's hitting .302 since with six home runs, the most in the Texas League in that span, and 17 RBIs.
"The hitting is going to come," he said. "It's always been there. It always will be."
The larger focus for Marlette is continuing to refine his defense and work with his pitching staff. If he does that, and continues to hit as he has for most of his career, he might not need three more years to take another step.
"My job as a catcher is to get my pitchers through some innings and win games," he said. "Just clean some stuff up behind home plate, and the sky is the limit for me."
Back on track: After three starts in which he allowed at least three runs, Yohander Mendez appears to have found a groove. The Frisco left-hander, who ranks No. 2 among all Rangers prospects, struck out nine in a June 9 victory at Corpus Christi. That came after he struck out five in seven shutout innings of a victory over Arkansas. The two outings came after he gave up 12 earned runs in his last three outings. He's lowered his ERA to 3.36 with 62 strikeouts in 75 innings pitched.
Help from all over: Springfield got roster help when it received players from different methods this month. Left-hander Austin Gomber, No. 14 on the Cardinals' prospects list, was activated from the DL on June 9. Zach Gallen, No. 23 in the system, was promoted from Class A Advanced Palm Beach on June 3. Magneuris Sierra was optioned to Springfield from St. Louis after his second stint with the big league club this year. Sierra is hitting .311 in 20 Texas League games with five doubles, five RBIs and six stolen bases. He hit .375 in 32 at-bats for St. Louis.
Return to the top: Ian Miller is back in the Travelers' lineup and back at the top of the Texas League hitting charts. Miller missed two weeks with a reported hamstring injury, but since his June 7 return, has four multi-hit games, including going 3-for-4 with three RBIs in Wednesday's victory at Springfield. Miller is hitting .343 to lead the league, and his 22 stolen bases also top the circuit.