Young trio won't sneak up on teams in 2012

Young trio won't sneak up on teams in 2012

Young trio won't sneak up on teams in 2012
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- When the time comes for opponents to begin breaking down the Astros this season, there's going to be plenty of information available on J.D. Martinez, Jimmy Paredes and Jose Altuve. There will be scouting reports and charts filled with notes about their tendencies and hot zones.

That wasn't the case last year, when all three young players burst onto the scene -- each arrived at the Majors within a few days of each other after being called straight up from Double-A -- and made an immediate impact. With the Astros committed to youth and rebuilding, Martinez, Paredes and Altuve became the offensive face of the team's youth movement.

Entering their first full season in the Major Leagues, the three players will find themselves facing the biggest challenges yet of their baseball careers in 2012. They're trying to prove they're ready to handle the adjustments they'll be required to make to remain in the lineup.

"When you first come to the big leagues, they really don't have good books on you," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "I think in all three of those kids' cases, they've proven through their Minor League careers they are able to make adjustments, and we're going to give them all the support we can from a coaching side. It's a matter of how long it takes them to made adjustments."

Martinez (left field), Paredes (third base) and Altuve (second base) are expected to be in the starting lineup on Opening Day, something no one could have imagined a year ago. Sure, the success each player had at the plate was gratifying, but Martinez understands it carries little significance entering a new season.

"We can't sneak up on anybody," he said. "People weren't aware of us and they were testing us out. I feel people are still going to test us because we're not established and still don't know, but people have more of a book. And I feel like they're going to go by it a little bit more and try to pick at our weaknesses."

Martinez, 24, began last season at Double-A Corpus Christi and was scorching the Texas League -- hitting .338 with 13 home runs and 72 RBIs -- when the Astros called him up after shipping Hunter Pence to the Phillies last July. All he did was hit .274 with six homers and 35 RBIs in 53 games and become a middle-of-the-order staple.

"He's clearly exceeded expectations to this point, where he was drafted [20th round in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft], and I hope he continues to do that," Luhnow said. "He could be one of those players we talk about at the end of the year, talking about his success."

Altuve, 21, is the 5-foot-5 dynamo who combined for 200 hits in the Majors and Minors last year. After hitting .389 at Double-A, he was called up July 19 and had a hit in his first seven games in the big leagues, finishing at .276 with 12 RBIs in 57 games while playing a steady second base.

"He's got incredible bat control, and when he swings, he rarely misses the ball," Luhnow said. "We've been talking to him and he's aware he needs to be more selective early in the count and try to get himself into better counts, because a walk is as good as a single. He knows he needs to improve, and he will."

Altuve walked only five times last year in 221 plate appearances, and he'll have to increase his on-base percentage considering he doesn't hit for much power.

"Last year was my first year in the big leagues, and I tried to do the best I can," Altuve said. "This is my first big league camp and I have to work hard. I'm ready for this, ready for everything. I'm going to play hard and do whatever I can to help the team win."

Paredes, 23, was called up Aug. 1 after an MVP season at Corpus Christi, and hit .286 with 18 RBIs in 46 games for Houston. He was shaky at times on defense, committing five errors at third, and Luhnow admitted earlier this week third base might not be his future full-time position.

"We need to spend some time this spring figuring out if third base is his best position long-term for the Astros," he said. "Should we try him back at short? Should we run him to the outfield and see how that goes? He's athletic enough. He's one of those players -- I don't want to say a utility player, because it tends to mean you're not a starter -- but he's a special talent."

Martinez, who came up through the system with Altuve and was a roommate of Paredes' last year at Double-A, expects his two friends and teammates to be a big part of the Astros' lineup for a long time.

"That's the plan," he said.

Brian McTaggart is reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.