NL All-Star Report: Jose Altuve Leads Up Young Houston Talent

The Houston Astros are going through the growing pains of rebuilding, but better days are ahead for this young team, thanks to the emergence of several quality young players. Foremost among them is second baseman Jose Altuve, the 22-year-old second baseman who leads up our discussion of National League All-Star candidates at his position.

Altuve came up in July 2011 and showed a respectable bat, hitting .276 for the balance of the season. The lack of plate discipline hurt the overall numbers, but was understandable given the age, and he lacked power. Altuve is at least halfway to solving those problems this year. With a .472 slugging percentage, he’s generating some power to the alleys. The batting average has shot up, as he’s hit .324. The problems of taking his walks still remain and have to be worked on, but there’s still plenty of time for improvement. And he plays a respectable defense. For those reasons, Altuve is TheSportsNotebook’s choice as the NL’s top second baseman coming into Friday’s games.

Two other strong candidates would be Atlanta’s Dan Uggla and Miami’s Omar Infante. In Uggla’s case, his .386/.471 on-base/slugging stat line marks him a better offensive player than Altuve, although the Atlanta second baseman hits in a deeper lineup and he’s also not as good defensively at a spot where that can’t be discounted. Infante is the best defensive second baseman in the league, according to the defensive metrics and he’s batting .295 with six home runs, but the OBP is 43 points lower than Altuve’s. But I can see a credible case being made for either Infante or Uggla.

The next level of National League second basemen would be Mark Ellis in Los Angeles, Aaron Hill in Arizona and Brandon Phillips in Cincinnati. Hill and Phillips have started to come on after slow starts and are close enough to the leaders that each can be in contention for the top spot when we revisit this position in September. Ellis doesn’ t hit for power and is currently on the disabled  list, but his .373 on-base percentage is solid.

Darwin Barney for Chicago and Philadelphia’s Freddy Galvis haven’t given anything at the plate, but each has been sound defensively. Although Galvis doesn’t have much of a future, with Chase Utley finally on a rehab assignment and on the way back. But he’s still been better than any of Daniel Murphy (Mets), Danny Espinosa (Nationals), Neil Walker (Pirates) or Marco Scutaro (Rockies). I’m surprised and disappointed to have Murphy included in this group. He swung the bat very well to start the season, but a  cooling off period of late has dropped his stat line to a mediocre .323/.352 and quelling the notion that this might be some kind of breakout year. Espinosa has also been a  disappointment. A power outburst last year has been followed by a .394 slugging percentage this year and the Nationals could really use the offense. Scutaro is less disappointing than simply getting old and probably out of his element as an everyday starter at second.

But when we talk disappointments, nobody does it better than Milwaukee’s Rickie Weeks. Once the best at his position in the National League and worthy of being in a discussion with the best In the American League, Weeks is hitting .164 and his defense is mediocre. Anyone else would be in Triple A right now, but the Brewers have little choice but to grind their teeth and keep giving Weeks a chance to turn it around.

St. Louis, San Francisco and San Diego have had a combination of injuries and platoons and have no one to insert into a discussion like this. The Cardinals are likely to get Skip Schumaker back soon, but I would expect that Daniel Descalco and Tyler Greene will continue to get their share of playing time.