Last season Jose Altuve came into Spring Training trying to nail down the starting job at second base. Although he was considered to be the favorite to break camp as the starter, nothing was written in stone. Altuve did just enough to win the job and started the season hitting eighth in the Astros lineup. Even though he had tremendous offensive numbers as a minor leaguer Altuve still needed to prove he could hit big league pitching.
Altuve got off to a hot start, hitting .360 in April, and soon found his way to the top of the order. The 5′ 5″ second-baseman was a consistent performer over the first half of the season, earning the right to be Houston’s lone representative at the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City.
In his first full season in the majors Altuve exceeded all expectations and was named the Astros MVP. The 22-year old compiled a .290/.340/.399 slash line in 147 games, all improvements over his rookie season of 2011. Altuve finished seventh in the National League with 33 stolen bases and his 11.7% strikeout rate was also among the league’s top ten. Altuve worked on his plate discipline last winter in Venezuela and it payed off. His 6.3% walk rate in 2012 was a drastic improvement over the 2.1% figure he posted in ’11.
Altuve is back in Venezuela this winter as he continues to work on his game. No one works harder at getting better. Altuve should continue to progress and mature as a hitter and could become a fixture in the leadoff spot for the Astros. This season it will be his job to lose, and I don’t expect that to happen. Barring an unforeseen Free Agent acquisition between now and Opening Day, Altuve should be the first Houston player to come to step into the batter’s box on April 2nd.
I expect to see a slight improvement over last season’s numbers for Altuve. No longer will he be following the pitcher to the plate and should have more opportunities to drive in runs in the American League lineup. The stolen base numbers could go down a bit, but I am hopeful that his slugging percentage will go up. Defense is the one area where Altuve has the most room for improvement. Hopefully that is something that will come as he gains more experience.