MLB

Altuve has been bright spot during tough seasons

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP)

(Eds: Adds details; quotes. Should stand. With AP Photos.)By KRISTIE RIEKENAP Sports Writer

Jose Altuve has been one of the rare bright spots for the Houston Astros the past two seasons.

This year, the 23-year-old second baseman is hoping his contributions finally help the Astros win.

''I think every process is going to be difficult when it's going to be successful in the end,'' Altuve said. ''I think we're going the right way. We had problems with winning, but I don't think this year we're going to have that problem.''

In his second full season in the majors in 2013, Altuve led Houston's everyday players in batting average (.283), hits (177), stolen bases (35) and tied Chris Carter for the most runs scored by an Astro (64).

''When you play at the level that he's been able to play since the day he arrived at the major leagues, it almost seems like he's been around a little bit longer than he's actually been around,'' manager Bo Porter said. ''But he's one of those guys that from the moment he arrived in the big leagues he's been a really good player.

Houston's rebuilding plan is to improve the team by developing homegrown talent, and Altuve is an example of success. He was signed by the Astros as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 2007 and spent 3 1/2 years in the minors proving that his 5-foot-5 frame wouldn't be a problem in the majors. In 2011, he made the jump from Double-A Corpus Christi to Houston after playing just 35 games at that level and never looked back.

He appeared in 57 games for the Astros after his call up that season and hit .276, finally quieting doubters who'd long told him he was too small to play in the big leagues.

A year later, he became a quality defender at second base and hit .290 with 34 doubles and 33 stolen bases to earn a trip the All-Star game.

The Astros rewarded Altuve for his play last summer when they signed him to a four-year, $12.5 million contract extension which goes through 2017 and includes team options for the following two seasons.

Altuve has always been an over-achiever on the field. This season Porter has seen him develop in other ways as well.

''He's actually been exerting himself from a leadership standpoint,'' Porter said. ''He may be quiet ... in certain segments, but he's not afraid to get up in front of his teammates and talk to his teammates one-on-one. He has taken his game to the next level as far as accountability and doing everything he can to help this team win baseball games.''

Altuve smiles at the mention of all the key prospects that should start arriving in Houston this season and in the next couple of years and said ''he can't wait to see them in the big leagues.''

Altuve remembers watching the Astros in 2005 when they made their only World Series appearance and is focused on helping Houston build that kind of team again. He knows the change won't happen overnight for this team which has lost 100 games in each of the last three seasons. But he believes things will be much better in 2014.

''That's what we're trying to do what now,'' he said. ''We're in the process but we're going a good way. When all those guys get to the big leagues along with all the guys that are already here and we pull the team together we're going to be really good.''

Tagged: Astros

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