They say everything is bigger in Texas.
Sometimes, you just don't see it on the outside.
Jose Altuve is officially listed at 5-6 and that may be courtesy of the heels in his cleats. In 2013, ESPN's Jim Caple reported Altuve as 5-5, making him the shortest player in MLB in more than 30 years.
For 24 years, Altuve's height has been scrutinized. His below-average frame was considered his kryptonite as he climbed the ladder in Venezuela and the minor leagues.
"That was the process everywhere I went," Altuve says. "People kept asking if I could play with my size. I kept saying just stay healthy and play hard. Now, here I am."
Carlos Altuve did not let height get in the way of believing in his son. Jose says his father encouraged him to tune out his critics and focus on the task at hand. Carlos gave him real-life Venezuelan examples to model his game after.
"Watching guys like Omar Vizquel and Marco Scutaro play in the big leagues -- they're not really big," Altuve says. "I thought I could play."
In three full major league seasons, Altuve has two All-Star Game appearances and a Silver Slugger Award. In 2014, he was the MLB leader in batting average (.341) and hits (225), and his 56 stolen bases led the American League. For reference, Dustin Pedroia, another short superstar second baseman (5-8), who Altuve refers to as a "kind of my role model," has never hit higher than .326. That total came during Pedroia's 2008 AL MVP campaign.
At the major league level, Altuve has shut up his final batch of naysayers. The second baseman is perhaps the best contact hitter in the league and he is just hitting his prime. In 2014, only Robinson Cano had a higher WAR at second base (6.4) than Altuve (6.0). In his first three seasons, Altuve ranked 12th in batting average, but fourth in hits and first in singles. During that span, among second basemen, Altuve ranked first in singles and stolen bases. He was second in batting average and hits, behind Cano in both categories.
Altuve took a massive step at age 24 in 2014. According to numberFire's nERD ranking, Altuve's 2.78 score was the 11th best nERD among second basemen in a season since 2000, and it was the 11th highest total among all 2014 hitters. That means that in 2014, Altuve would add 2.78 runs over league-average batters if he batted in every spot for a team.
Altuve, who exudes humility and a calm demeanor, refuses to boast his 2014 accomplishments. Wrapping up the season, he cannot help but look at the team picture, which was certainly helped by his individual accolades.
The Astros went 70-92 in 2014, up 19 wins from their 51-111 record in 2013. Houston also had MLB's worst record in 2011, 2012 and 2013, never winning more than 56 games during that span. "I think we're ready for next season," Altuve says. "I think we'll show people who we are. Hopefully we'll be in the playoffs."
Before Altuve's mid-2011 debut, reaching the postseason by 2015 seemed like a dream scenario in Houston. Altuve's production and leadership are closing in on the playoffs as a reality. The Astros have not played in October since 2005 when the Chicago White Sox swept the Astros in the World Series.
Altuve's November confidence could the result of his success in the 11th MLB Japan All-Star Series. After starting the trip as Cano's backup, Altuve's playing time increased after Cano suffered an injured toe. Altuve went 6-for-14 for a .429 batting average in the five-game championship portion of the series.
"The only chance you have to play with other players is the All-Star Game," Altuve says. "This was like an All-Star Game for a week. Playing with Robinson Cano, Evan Longoria and Yasiel Puig was something that was very good and I think the best part of the trip."
Altuve had never been to Japan before he got on the plane, but he expected a baseball-crazy environment. He was impressed by the frequency of baseball fields in the country and the pristine condition of the fields. During his off-days, Altuve traveled around the country, touring the various cities the team traveled through. He now refers to Japan as "a beautiful country."
Altuve's strength as a tourist came in analyzing the baseball. While Altuve has battled some of Japan's best products in MLB, he had a better opportunity to study the Japanese game when engaging against full Japanese teams in their home culture.
"I think they play the game a little different," he says. "Different pitches and stuff. There's a little bit more breaking balls and splitters. Everything else is really the same."
In the United States, fans have watched enough Daisuke Matsuzaka, Masahiro Tanaka and Hideo Nomo to validate Altuve's point. Although, right now, it seems like there is no pitch Altuve cannot hit.
"I want to keep working hard and keep doing everything," Altuve says about his offseason. "I'll try to get better in my defense, get better in my hitting, pretty much get better at everything. If you're doing that, it's good for your career."
Back in the United from Japan, Altuve plans to soon depart for his native Venezuela for the winter. There, Altuve will be engulfed by another baseball-heavy nation. However, in South America, Altuve is a national hero with an image only rising. He has children who look up to him, and Altuve believes it is his job to give back to them.
"Venezuela is a baseball country," he says. "It's the No. 1 sport there. The little kids are working hard to be big leaguers. We try to do the best we can. I'm going to go there, visit my family, spend time with the kids and do everything I can to let the little kids know about the big leagues and encourage them to keep working hard."
Last week, a fellow Venezuelan, Pablo Sandoval, signed a five-year $95 million contract to play for the Boston Red Sox. The deal crosses Sandoval over to the American League, where he will see Altuve on a more frequent basis. Sandoval and Altuve have both played in the Venezuelan Winter League for the club Navegantes del Magallanes.
"I feel really happy for him," Altuve says. "I think he deserves it. He's been working really hard. I hope he has a successful year with the Red Sox."
Before he leaves for Venezuela, Altuve is working in Houston as a spokesman for Bank of America, where he is demonstrating the brand's new ATM with Teller Assist to local individuals. The new technology allows users to speak directly over video with a teller in English or Spanish, seven days a week during extended hours.
The Astros open 2015 at home against the Cleveland Indians on April 6.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.