It’s easy to miss – or just plain forget about – Jose Altuve. One, because he’s 5-6. And two, because he plays for the Houston Astros.
Well, it’s time to start paying attention to the diminutive second baseman. Altuve leads the majors in hits (118) and is second in average (.347) and stolen bases (37). He also hit .435 in June, during which the Astros went 12-14 – which, for them is an accomplishment.
“I just try to play hard and help my team win,” Altuve said on The MoJo Show.
That’s been the lifelong mantra for Altuve, 24, who grew up in Venezuela and never wanted his size to be a factor.
“I was working hard every single day when I was 16, 17 years old,” he said. “I prepare myself every day. I went to the field and I worked 100 percent to prove people wrong, and I just thank God that he gave me the opportunity to play.”
Altuve signed his first professional contract for $15,000 and recalls getting cut from one team in particular. The club had to go from 50 payers to 20, and Altuve was not among the 20. The next day, however, he showed up as if he were.
“I wasn’t on that roster, but I decided to come back and try to be the No. 21 guy and (see if they would) let me learn in camp,” Altuve said. “I went there, gave 100 percent and they decided to give me the opportunity.”
Altuve signed a four-year, $12.5 million extension with the Astros in 2013.
His idol would be proud.
When Altuve was 12 years old, he watched David Eckstein win a World Series with the Angels. When Altuve was 16, he watched Eckstein win a World Series with the Cardinals. Not only that, but Eckstein was named World Series MVP.
“That says a lot about him,” Altuve said. “He played with a lot of heart. I wanted to be like him some day.”
Now he is – and then some. Altuve is one of the best contact hitters in baseball.
“It’s been working really good right now,” he said. “Watching a lot of videos before the game, getting into a routine, going to the cages – just working hard. I give credit to my coaches. They’ve been helping me a lot.”
So has George Springer, also 24, who leads the Astros in home runs (16) and RBIs (43). Altuve, who bats in front of Springer, has protection in the order for essentially the first time in his career.
“For me right now, he’s the best player in the league,” Altuve said of Springer. “I’m really happy to have him hitting behind me.”
And let’s not forget about the steals. Altuve is an astounding 37-of-40 (.925) on stolen base attempts this season. The only player with more steals than Altuve is Dee Gordon, who is 40-of-49 (.816).
Altuve again credited his coaches and Springer, who isn’t seeing too many fast balls right down the middle.
The Astros (36-49) are on pace for another last-place finish in the AL West, but they’re also on pace for 69 wins – a vast improvement over last season’s 51.
“The way we’ve been playing right now, if we keep doing it, we’re going to finish strong and we’re going to be really good,” Altuve sad. “We have a young team with a lot of talent, and I think we’re going to be in a good position sooner than everybody thinks.”
Altuve would love to be an All-Star, of course, but he ranks fourth among AL second baseman in voting. He trails Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia.
“If I make it, it’s going to be an honor for me,” Altuve said. “I think every single guy in the big leagues wants to be an All-Star. But we have 10 or 15 games before the break. We need to win those games.”