Yes, Jose Altuve is little. But he also might be the Astros’ Next Big Thing.

My first lesson in Baseball Height 101 arrived soon after I started working for the Astros in 1997. My first day of work was about a week before everyone left for Spring Training, so I met practically no one in my first two months, relying solely on headshots in the media guide to learn who everyone was.

I read the player bios incessantly, as it was my responsibility to finish up the media guide, proofread it until my eyeballs bled and send it off to the printer. So on more than one occasion — twice a day, really, for the better part of three weeks — I read this blurb, among others:

Jeff Bagwell
Height: 6-0
Weight: 195
Bats: R
Throws: R

Months later, I met Bagwell. And I remember thinking, if that’s six feet, I’m 7-2. Years later, when I knew him better, I casually brought up the six-foot listing. He laughed and said, “I know, isn’t it hilarious?”

Hilarious is a good word for some of the heights you’ll see as the “official” listings of ballplayers. I think Billy Wagner was listed at 5-11, as was Craig Biggio. Mike Hampton was 5-10.

I soon learned that the general rule of thumb is this: when you’re really, truly, legitimately taller than six feet, you’re listed at what you actually are. If you’re under, well, the listing is usually your real height, plus two inches.

That brings us to Corpus Christi Hooks second baseman Jose Altuve. On minorleaguebaseball.com, Baseball Reference and the Astros media guide, he is listed as 5-foot-7.

In Corpus, however — in their game programs, on their roster sheets, in stories written by their beat writer — the 21-year-old Altuve is referred to as a far more accurate 5-foot-5.

What gives?

“Five-seven?” someone close to the situation in Corpus said. “That’s a Houston thing.”

Altuve, right, stands 10 inches shorter than his teammate (and top outfield prospect) J.D. Martinez.

Altuve’s diminutive size is a common topic around here. He has probably had to discuss his height with just about every media type who has wanted to talk to him since he was signed as a non-drafted free agent at the age of 16 in 2006. With this in mind, I figured I’d get it out of the way early when we chatted after batting practice Thursday.

Altuve smiled at the line of questioning.

“Everywhere I go, people say, ‘Hey, you’re small,’” he said. “I know that. Like I’ve said before, I just want to show that short guys can play, too.”

Before he signed with the Astros, Altuve attended a couple of tryouts in Venezuela, and he heard the same thing over and over again: You play well. But you’re small.

“When I went to the Astros, they said, ‘OK. You’re small,’” Altuve recalled. “I said, ‘I know! I know! Everybody says that.’” But then his new employer followed up with, “But we’re going to give you the opportunity.”

“And they gave it to me,” Altuve said. “They said, ‘Just do what you know how to do.’ I said, ‘This (baseball) is what I know how to do.’”


Altuve will represent the Astros organization on Sunday when he plays for the World Team in the All-Star Futures Game in Phoenix. It will be his first exposure to a Major League ballpark, and he’ll play in front of a crowd that will resemble something close to Major League as well.

It’s likely his height will be a topic of conversation, again. His Hooks manager, Tom Lawless, expects that line of questioning to follow Altuve throughout his career. Lawless is also fully convinced that career will include significant time in the big leagues — sooner than later.

“You can be short, tall, skinny, tubby,” Lawless said. “There are a lot ways to play the game of baseball. It’s not like football or basketball. You have the opportunity, whether you’re 5-foot-4 or 6-foot-4, to play baseball.”

That said, Lawless, who has been managing Altuve since the second baseman was promoted from Lancaster in early June, realizes Altuve will have his detractors.

“I told him a couple weeks ago, ‘People are always going to doubt you because of your size,’” Lawless said. “‘You’re going to have to always bring an energy, play good, solid defense and continue to hit.’ So far, he hasn’t let anybody down.”

Altuve entered play Thursday leading all full-season Minor Leaguers this season with a .391 batting average. He had 17 multi-hit games of the first 28 he played with the Hooks. Against Double-A right-handed pitchers, he’s hitting .363. Against lefties, .343.

“He’s line drive hitter,” Lawless said. “He gets the barrel to the ball. For a short little guy, he has pretty good bat speed, which generates into power. He can hit it out of the ballpark. And it doesn’t matter if it’s right center field, or left center.”

So that’s the baseball stuff. Other reasons you’re going to like Altuve: he’s a friendly kid. Smart. Good sense of humor. Smiles a lot. And he speaks fluent English, which is not a requirement for getting to the big leagues but makes the transition 100 times easier when it gets to be that time.

I (only semi-jokingly) told him I’d lobby for him to get a big league Spring Training invite next year. I also asked him if it intimidates him at all when he hears the top dogs who run the Astros — GM Ed Wade on down — gush about him.

“When I heard things like that coming from the general manager, there might have been a little pressure,” he said. “But I don’t think too much about that. I play hard and just go every day, as hard as I can.”

That approach has created a buzz in Corpus. Eventually, the small man could be making big news in Houston, too.

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23 Comments

“Altuve entered play Thursday leading all full-season Minor Leaguers with a .391 batting average…Against right-handed hitters, he’s hitting .363. Against lefties, .343.”

Huh? I must be missing something, how is his combined BA higher than his BA vs righties and vs lefties?

The .391 average is over the entire season, the splits are since he’s been in Double-A. Thanks for the heads up, I updated and clarified.
Alyson

Hey! You finally wrote a good story…no more Happ just sat down to eat, I just bought a book.

Alyson usually always writes good stories, they give you a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ access.

That reminds me, I haven’t checked to see what Happ had for breakfast today. I’ll get back to you on that. And the book I bought, Tiny Fey’s BossyPants, was fabulous!

What a great story Alyson. It’ll be fun to see what he does.

Good for him! I hope his success continues as he progresses through the system. And how about Kody Hinze? He’s really doing well, too.

I’ll be touching on him as well. My targets are Altuve, Wallace and JD Martinez but I will be writing about a slew of others as well in some capacity. There’s a ton of talent here. Paredes is very, very good defensively. I’ve only watched one game so far…

Thanks for the Altuve boost (so to speak.) He doesn’t need to stand tall because he stands tall in every aspect of the game. 100% gamer. If you love watching an underdog, you’ll love watching Altuve. He does it all.

I heard JD and Brownie talking tonight about Wallace and Altuve. Do you think the Astros may be soon unloading some contracts, via trade, and going with some even younger talent? Wouldn’t hurt my feelings a bit. Some of our current players may be sought after by contending clubs, like Keppinger, Downs, Sanchez, etc.

I think they’ll be open to doing just about anything, with the exception of a few “untouchables”, i.e., Norris and Lyles and probably Melancon as well. That said, there is a perception that they can just unload the entire current roster and get a bunch of top prospects to build for the future. It doesn’t work that way. Sanchez and Keppinger and Downs aren’t going to fetch top talent. To get real, true-blue prospects, you have to trade the players that make everyone gasp and say “NOOO! Don’t trade him!” Pence. Bourn. Norris. That’s why trades are so hard to make. You don’t see trades made that feel like a punch in the gut to one fanbase but not the other. So that’s where we are. I do know Ed is open to exploring anything. That doesn’t mean anything will happen.

Had to laugh when reading this because my exact reaction to the idea of Pence, Bourn, or Norris being traded was “Nooooooo! Not them!!”

Bring him up to the majors, this season is lost and at least we can see a kid
that can actually play baseball. Who knows…….he might just be what this team needs. A “little” spark! Becky:) :) :)

A service buddy who lives near Lexington turned me on to him. His main comment was how hard Altuve hit the ball every time. Don’t forget, they told Joe Morgan that he was too small.

A few weeks ago while in San Antonio, Paredes was absolutely awful at 3B for the first two games and Altuve was moved there for second pair of games with the Missions. I don’t know if an injury was involved or what, but despite his obvious athleticism Paredes showed no instinct for the position. It would be impressive if less than a month later he is now “very, very good” at the hot corner.

I enjoyed watching Villar and Altuve play defense and the overall athleticism of this Hooks team is far superior to that of probably any Hooks team in its short history.

That’s why I’m hesitant to make too many sweeping judgements after watching just one game, Michael! After three really slick plays at third, I felt comfortable enough to say he’s very good defensively. Hopefully he’s improving with time and didn’t just have a rare good night. This is what player development is all about — working, working, working and hoping for marked results over the course of a season. Hooks manager Tom Lawless did mention yesterday that he has Paredes and Altuve playing both second and third so maybe they’re still figuring out where everyone belongs. Anyway, the bottom line is I saw some good situational hitting, speed on the basepaths and solid defense from many players. It is also staggering how much slower the game is at this level than in the big leagues. It’s a totally different world at the top. That’s why we can’t be so anxious to rush these kids…fielding a ground ball at AA is so much different than how fast it comes at you in the Majors. It’s almost like watching a different game sometimes. We have to give these kids the proper time to develop.

just a reminder Yoggi Berra is about 5′-2″…….

I really enjoyed this story. And the trip to Corpus just to see him play might be worth it.

The true talent is pretty much all here, at least among the players who have a chance to reach the bigs in the next year or two. And Corpus is just a great place and the ballpark is fun. You’ll have a good time regardless.

I understand what you were saying earlier about getting top talent you have to trade top talent, but why not keep some and trade some. For example, Bourn is really great, but how about trading him, and keeping Bourgeois, and Bogesevic? From what I can tell, Bourgeois is 95 percent as good as Bourn defensively when given the opportunity, and maybe a better hitter. I would think Pence would be the toughest trade, as he’s such a fan favorite. Seems that we could still keep a very decent core of young players and make a great trade or two at the same time, yes, no? :-)

I love the players that Bourgeois is. He also has not shown that he can stay healthy. So trading Bourn and handing the job to Bourgeois is a very dangerous thing to do at this point.

Agreed.. Reminds me of the Aaron Brooks situation with the Rockets last season, but Kyle Lowrey turned out to be pretty darn good. :)

Alyson, how much longer do you think Altuve would have at Corpus? I’m really hoping I could get to see him in Little Rock in August when the Hooks pay their next visit.

Also, good come back on that comment earlier about what’s for breakfast, etc. Heh heh. :)

Ciao for now! Scott

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