Altuve not short on talent, desire to be great player
Astros second baseman taking game to another level as he makes push for ASG
HOUSTON -- David Price asked Jose Altuve for an autographed baseball a few weeks ago, and if that doesn't sound like a big deal to you, it might be because you haven't traveled the road Jose Altuve has traveled.
Altuve has come a long way to position himself for his second career All-Star berth. He's currently fourth in the fan balloting to earn a spot on the American League team, but Astros fans still have time to cast their votes for their guy, who is leading the AL in hits, stolen bases and batting average.
Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com -- online or on a mobile device -- using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until Thursday, July 3, at 10:59 p.m CT. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field on Tuesday, July 15 on FOX.
Now about the way this journey began. If autographing a ball for an opposing player doesn't seem like a big deal, it certainly is to a guy who has been told again and again that he's never going to measure up and that it's time to give up on the only dream you've ever had. Get on with the rest of your life, kid. Altuve heard those words almost constantly when he began going to tryout camps in his native Venezuela.
"When I was 15 or 16, scouts would tell me, 'You can play a little bit,'" he said.
That's the weird part of his story. Almost everyone thought the kid could play. That is, he had a terrific skill set.
"His hand-to-eye coordination is second to none," Astros hitting coach John Mallee said. "His ability to manipulate the barrel of the bat is amazing."
Scouts saw that gift and were impressed. They knew they were seeing the kind of talent they don't see every day.
On the other hand ...
"They'd say, 'You look good, but we don't think you can play, because of your size,'" Altuve said.
You probably already knew that. In fact, it was once the only thing a lot of people knew about the Astros' second baseman.
In the end, scouts who saw him back in Venezuela couldn't get past that.
At the time, Altuve couldn't imagine that being the shortest player in the big leagues would eventually increase his fame.
ESPN would measure home runs in "Altuves." If he'd been 6-foot-1, he'd be just another ballplayer.
Again, though, that's not how he took it back in the beginning.
"It just made me work harder," he said. "I didn't care about that. I just needed an opportunity."
Enter the Houston Astros. In 2007, three different scouts from the Astros agreed that Altuve was worth taking a chance on.
"They said, 'OK, if you play like this, you're going to have a chance to be in the big leagues,'" Altuve said.
Thus began the pursuit of a dream. There probably were plenty of his managers and scouts in the Minor Leagues who wondered if his size would keep him out of the big leagues.
He proved them wrong right from the start. He began hitting from Day 1, and kept on hitting.
Midway through his fifth season, in 2011, when he was hitting .361 at Double-A Corpus Christi, the Astros summoned him to the big leagues.
Maybe he was a novelty at the start of his career, because he's 5-foot-6. That's the first thing people notice.
He's OK with that.
These days, there's so much more to his game. In his third full season in the Major Leagues, he has emerged as a special talent.
He leads the big leagues in hits (107) and multihit games (32). He leads the American League in batting average (.334) and stolen bases (30).
On Thursday afternoon, he contributed two singles, two stolen bases and a diving catch of a Freddie Freeman liner as the Astros defeated the Braves, 6-1, at Minute Maid Park.
He's playing so well that he could join Ichiro Suzuki (2003) as the only players to lead their leagues in hits, stolen bases and batting average at the All-Star break, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"I feel really good about that," he said. "When you're doing good, that means you're helping your team, and that's what I care about."
He's recently made a push in All-Star voting, jumping up to fourth among American League second basemen in the latest round of All-Star Game balloting totals released Sunday.
That's why Price asking for an autographed baseball struck a chord. It was a symbol that others were seeing that he'd arrived as an impact player.
"He's a Cy Young pitcher, one of the best in the big leagues," Altuve said. "To have a guy of that caliber come to you means a lot. That makes me want to work even harder."
Altuve hit .283 last season, but when it ended, he decided he could do better. He got himself into better shape and focused on getting more disciplined in the strike zone. Already a good player, he decided he wanted more.
"You look at the end of last season," Astros manager Bo Porter said, "and he felt he had a lot to prove to himself. That he left a lot out there. He changed his diet, changed his workout habit. He reported to Spring Training 10 pounds lighter, and more determined and more focused than he's ever been. He has always been a committed player. He took a look at where he was at and felt like he can go to another level. It's good to see him be rewarded with the success he's enjoying."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.