Houston's Altuve, last year's batting title winner, looks to do more in 2015 for Astros

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KISSIMMEE, Florida — Jose Altuve hit .341, became the first Houston player to win a batting title and set a team record with 225 hits in 2014.

What do the Astros like best about all that? The second baseman is intent on being even better this year.

"I want to improve my hitting, my defense, improve my baserunning — everything," Altuve said. "If you improve as a player, you're going to help your team and I think that's very important."

New manager A.J. Hinch is thrilled to have Altuve on his team and a broad smile spread across his face when told of his comments about improving.

"I love the fact that Altuve's not satisfied," Hinch said. "I think he's a great example for our young players. He's always searching for that little edge that will make him a better player. I expect him to put in the effort and he will to become an even better player than we saw last year."

Altuve has been a bright spot for the Astros as they went through the arduous and painful task of rebuilding the past few seasons. Now that they're done working toward the future and focusing on winning now, they're looking to Altuve to lead the way.

"He's the spark of the team," owner Jim Crane said. "He's got an infectious smile and he's a great guy and I think you'll see him step up and lead a lot more this year."

He's embraced that role early in spring training, taking 2012 No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa under his wing, showing him the ropes and making sure he's doing things the right way.

At just 24, Altuve emerged last season as the league's most consistent hitter, leading the majors in batting average and hits. Houston's previous record for hits in a season was 210, set in 1998 by Craig Biggio, who was elected to the Hall of Fame this year.

Altuve was third in the majors with 47 doubles, had 59 RBIs and tied for second in the league with 56 stolen bases.

He's the leadoff hitter and loves the power in the lineup behind him. The Astros added in Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus this offseason to a lineup that already featured Chris Carter, who tied for second in the majors with 37 home runs. Houston was fourth in the majors with 163 homers last season.

"It's going to be pretty interesting," Altuve said. "I think that's going to be the key for this year with Carter, Gattis, Rasmus, Jason (Castro). That could change the whole team."

Low-key and humble, Altuve seems uncomfortable talking about his performance last year and the accolades it garnered. He still has the hunger born from a past where he was told repeatedly that at just 5-foot-6 he was too small to play in the majors.

"I believe in myself and what I can do and I'm going to go out and show people that I can play well for my team and we can win a lot of games," he said.

Another reason for his continued focus is that he doesn't want to simply be a player who was great once and didn't build on it.

"I want to be a consistent player, not only a good year player that was really good and then didn't do it the next year," Altuve said. "I just try to be consistent, stay healthy and do my little things through the end of the year and just play baseball."

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