It is pretty much a given that J.D. Martinez is the Houston Astros' best player at this point in the season. Martinez is hitting .282 this year and leads the team in home runs, RBI and walks. He is making a strong case that his numbers last year were not a fluke.
There is another player making a strong case that last year was not a fluke and that is second baseman Jose Altuve. He only stands at 5'5", but don't let his short stature fool you—this kid can play and is standing tall in the majors.
If the Astros are hoping for a successful rebuilding process, Jose Altuve will be a key player in that and is the team's most vital player, behind only J.D. Martinez. These are the top five reasons why he is so valuable.
Jose Altuve has been in the Astros organization over five years now but is still only 21. The fact that he is playing this well so far means he has time on his side and potentially a number of great years ahead of him. This should only benefit the Astros in the long run.
As of Monday, Jose Altuve was hitting .369 which is good enough for eighth in all of Major League Baseball. Anybody who followed his minor league career would not be surprised by this fact.
In five seasons in the minor league system, Altuve hit at a rate of .386. Now, to expect him to hit like that over his major league career would be unrealistic. However, it would not be a surprise if Altuve ended up with a career average around .300.
Jose Altuve currently ranks eighth in the majors in range factor, which is putouts and assists divided by the number of innings the player plays, at 4.98. This stat was created by Bill James to show the effect a player has on the team's defense.
Defense is one area that Jose Altuve is actually more valuable to the team than J.D. Martinez and is one of the reasons he is the second-most vital player to Houston.
A person with his stature does not become a Major League Baseball player without an extraordinary work ethic.
Last year, it was noticeable that if Altuve was to stay at this level he would need to work on his plate disciple. He only had five walks in 221 at-bats, so he spent the winter working on this weakness and it shows. He already has seven walks in 83 at-bats this season.
Jose Altuve doesn't have blazing speed like former Astro Michael Bourn, but he is a smart base runner. He has three triples already this year, two more than last season and is 4-for-4 in steal attempts.
Altuve hasn't played a full season of games yet in his young career and opposing teams will continue to look to find weaknesses to exploit. So, it is important to temper expectations, but with the strong work ethic and what he has shown to date, fans should be excited about having him on their team.