(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.)
By DICK SCANLON
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) - It hasn't taken long for Jose Altuve to become the most established player in the lineup of the Houston Astros.
The 22-year-old second baseman has been around for almost a year and a half, longer than most in Houston's training camp but not long enough to think of himself as a leader.
"It's kind of different because everybody knows I'm a really young guy, and everybody here is young, so I feel I'm the same as the rest of the team," Altuve said Friday. "I know I've played a whole year, and half of 2011. I talk to the guys. We try to get to know each other, but I just feel we've got guys like Carlos Pena and (Rick) Ankiel who are going to be the veterans. I just want to be the guy who goes out and helps my team to win."
That will be a tall order for the 5-foot-5 Altuve, who made the National League All-Star team in his first full season.
New manager Bo Porter will put Altuve near the top of the batting order, and almost everything else is to be determined about the lineup of a team coming off seasons of 106 and 107 losses.
Porter refers to Altuve as an established major league player, which sounds like an odd thing to say about a player with only 204 games of big league experience. By Astros standards, it applies.
"Just looking at the numbers, I would love Altuve to bat second," Porter said, "but we're going to need someone to take the bull by the horns and grab hold of that leadoff spot. We know that he's capable of doing it, if need be."
Porter would like his shortstop, either Tyler Greene or Marwin Gonzalez, to earn that leadoff spot during the exhibition season. If not, he might go back to Altuve, who has led off 89 times and batted second 88 times for Houston.
"That's something that doesn't make any difference," Altuve said. "I just want to come to the field every day and see my name in the lineup. I have better numbers (hitting) second, but I'd feel comfortable hitting anywhere in the lineup."
Altuve hit .290 with seven home runs last season and led then Astros in runs (80), hits (167), doubles (34), triples (4) and stolen bases (33), the latter figure ranking sixth in the National League.
That's big stuff, even if Altuve isn't. He is literally the smallest of All-Stars, tying Albie Pearson (1963) and Fred Patek (1972-76-78) for that honor.
"I love it," Altuve said. "Wherever I've been, people have told me: `Hey, you're little but you can play.' I really love that. I just want to go out and show people that a short guy can play baseball, too."