Diminutive All-Star on early track to rank among all-time best second basemen
By Roger Schlueter
Looking at Jose Altuve now, you can understand why he was unheralded for so long. After all, the 25-year-old Astros second baseman stands at 5-foot-6 and weighs just 165 pounds.
Just imagine how Altuve looked to scouts who evaluated him when he was a teenager in Venezuela, before he signed with Houston for a mere $15,000 bonus. Or to those who never ranked him as a top prospect, even as he was batting .327 over five Minor League seasons.
And, still, when Altuve reached the Majors in 2011 and made the National League All-Star team a year later, it was still easier to view him as a novelty rather than as a bona fide star.
But here Altuve is now, established not only as one of the best "short guys" in big league history, but among the greatest stars through age-25. Let's look at 10 facts that highlight his excellence:
1. Among players listed at 5-foot-6 or shorter, only Altuve, Willie Keeler and Billy Hamilton (of the 19th century) have multiple 200-hit seasons.
2. By pacing the American League in hits in each of the past two campaigns, Altuve joined Keeler (1897-98, 1900) as one of only two men at 5-foot-6 or under to have led the league in hits multiple times.
3. Among all position players in baseball history to be listed at 5-foot-6 or shorter, Altuve ranks sixth in cumulative Wins Above Replacement through age-25.
4. Altuve is one of five second basemen since 1901 to lead the league in hits in back-to-back seasons, and his 830 career hits are seventh most among all keystone men through age-25.
5. Dating back to 1901, Altuve is one of eight under-age-26 stars -- regardless of position -- to lead the league in hits in consecutive years. The previous seven: Ty Cobb (1907-09, 1911-12); Shoeless Joe Jackson (1912-13), Rogers Hornsby (1920-21), Ducky Medwick (1936-37), Stan Musial (1943-44), Harvey Kuenn (1953-54) and George Brett (1975-76).
6. Among second basemen, Altuve is ahead of where 3,000-hit club members Paul Molitor (735), Pete Rose (723), Nap Lajoie (721) and Rod Carew (675) were through their age-25 campaigns. He is also ahead of the pace of a host of Hall of Fame-enshrined second-sackers like Billy Herman, Frankie Frisch, Nellie Fox, Ryne Sandberg, Tony Lazzeri and Charlie Gehringer.
7. Altuve is also one of 13 players to have multiple campaigns with 200 hits and 40 doubles through age-25. The previous dozen: Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Hornsby, Paul Waner, Chuck Klein, Herman, Hank Greenberg, Musial and Ducky Medwick; and non-Cooperstown residents Jackson, Pinky Whitney, Hal Trosky and Don Mattingly.
8. Altuve and Jackson are the only players to have multiple 200-hit, 40-double, 30-steal seasons before entering their age-26 campaigns.
9. Altuve is also one of just 10 players in the modern era -- with Cobb, Tris Speaker, Roberto Alomar and Alex Rodriguez among them -- to accumulate at least 800 hits, 150 doubles and 150 steals through age-25.
10. Last but not least: Altuve is one of four players since 1901 to lead his league in both hits and steals in the same campaign before age-26. Altuve accomplished the feat in both 2014 and '15, joining Rickey Henderson (1981), Snuffy Stirnweiss (1944) and Cobb (1907, '09, '11).
Looking ahead to 2016, Altuve will set his sights on leading the AL in hits and steals for the third straight season and taking home his second straight Gold Glove Award at the keystone position.
Plus, Altuve will try to lead the Astros to back-to-back postseason berths and, potentially, the first World Series championship in franchise history.
Still months away from playing his first game as a 26-year-old, the best may be yet to come for a man who has already broken through a glass ceiling many thought he was too short to reach.
Roger Schlueter is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.