WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — After winning American League MVP last season with another great performance in a stellar young career, many wonder what Jose Altuve will do for an encore.
The Astros aren't among those with questions.
"We joke with him that he's going to be good because he's Jose Altuve," manager A.J. Hinch said.
Altuve led the majors with a career-high .346 average and finished with 204 hits for his fourth straight 200-hit season to become the first Astro to win the MVP since Jeff Bagwell won the NL award in 1994. His heroics continued in the playoffs when he had an MLB-best seven homers, with 14 RBIs and a .310 average to lead the Astros to their first World Series title.
For the 5-foot-6 former underdog who was told repeatedly that he was too small to play in the majors, the honor was something that he always dreamed of.
Photos: AL MVP Jose Altuve back at Astros Spring Training
"You feel like you did something to help your team," he said. "When they gave me the MVP, it was like: 'OK, I was part of this. I love it.' That makes you keep working hard and trying to get better."
It's hard to imagine how Altuve can be much better than he was last season when was third in the AL with 32 steals and hit 39 doubles to go with his other gaudy numbers. But he and Hinch don't believe the 28-year-old has hit his ceiling yet and are excited to see what he'll do in 2018.
"He's the first one to tell you that he's got things to work on," Hinch said. "Which for most of us brings a smile to our face, to me brings a smile to my face because I love the fact that he's driven like that."
When asked exactly what he needs to work on, Altuve quickly rattles off a list of things he's focusing on this spring to elevate his game.
"Plenty of things like baserunning and defense. Hitting too," he said. "I can go out there and walk more. I can get on base more. I can make little things on a daily basis better. Be consistent on a daily basis, that's what I want to do."
Entering his eighth major league season, Altuve still approaches each day with the exuberance of a rookie. He's so thankful to have been a part of Houston's turnaround after being one of only a handful of players around when the Astros rebuilding process left them with the worst team in baseball for years.
"I don't know how my teammates feel about the World Series, but I can tell you the way I feel," he said. "I was here when we lost 300 games in three seasons and I was kind of like a little depressed when that happened. You want to win. But I think that gave me the opportunity to keep playing, keep getting better and stay here when our team became World Series champions."
Staying positive during those three straight 100-loss seasons from 2011-13 was no easy task, but Altuve said believing in the vision of Houston's front office helped ease the pain of losing night after night.
"I don't know why, but I felt in those times that OK we're going to be good," he said. "I believed in (owner) Jim Crane, I believed in (general manager) Jeff Luhnow. I believed in what they were doing, so I definitely wanted to be part of this when we get there."
Altuve, who has won the AL batting title in three of the last four seasons, doesn't set number goals for himself, but believes that if he helps the team contend for a title again this season that will mean he's done his job.
"Hopefully I can go out there and help my team," he said. "If I can do that for me that's getting better."
Hinch loves Altuve's attitude and smiles broadly when asked what the second baseman's presence does for his teammates.
"When one of your best players or your best player is your best examples, it's something to hold onto and something to treasure as a coach or a manager," he said. "I don't have to worry about guys playing hard. I don't have to worry about energy. I don't have to worry about attention to detail primarily because there's guys like Jose that are built that way."