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Reinvigorated Altuve ready for Astros' new era

SPRING, Texas -- On the day viewers of MLB Network voted him as the "Face of the Franchise," the stubbled face of Jose Altuve sported a smile as the Astros second baseman took the news in stride, which should come as a shock to no one.

Altuve has handled every label placed on him during his career, beginning with "undersized." A player many thought was too small to play at a high level earned a new label last season: "National League All-Star." And he did it in the same carefree manner in which he plays the game. For Altuve, getting a chance to play baseball is all that matters to him.

After admitting at the end of last season -- his first full year in the Major Leagues -- that he was worn out, Altuve looked rested and eager to begin Spring Training on Tuesday when he joined teammates Tyler Greene and Wesley Wright and former Astros pitcher Shane Reynolds at the club's CAREavan stops.

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The players gave a clinic for Northwest Little League players before signing autographs later in the evening at Academy Sports & Outdoors, where a line of fans stretched into the parking lot. Altuve, wearing a new Astros orange jersey, was as excited to meet the fans as he is about the start of Spring Training.

"I'm excited because it's a new year, new uniforms, new league, new manager, so I expect to have a good year and help this team," Altuve said.

The Astros' final season in the National League in 2012 proved to be a breakout year for Altuve, the 5-foot-5 dynamo who hit .290 with seven homers, 37 RBIs and 33 stolen bases. He was named the team's MVP and at 22 years old was the second-youngest member of the NL All-Star team. Face of the franchise? Why not?

Altuve played 35 games this winter for Magallanes in his native Venezuela, hitting .336 with one homer, 27 RBIs and eight steals in 35 games. He took a few weeks off to rest up for Spring Training, where he's one of the few players coming to camp guaranteed a job.

The young Astros are coming off a 107-loss season as they continue to revamp their roster through the Minor League system and the Draft. Steady winning could be a few years away, but Altuve isn't fazed.

"We have a good team to go to the American League and battle with every single team," he said.

One thing Altuve won't be doing this spring is participating in the World Baseball Classic. Altuve bursts with pride when he talks about Venezuela, but a stacked club features Marco Scutaro and Elvis Andrus in the middle of its infield and no room for Altuve.

"I would have liked to play with the Venezuela team," Altuve said. "That's something every player wants to do. I was almost on the final roster. They cut me out at the end. Maybe I'll have some more opportunities in the next few years, but I expect the best from the team."

Greene, meanwhile, figures to make an impact on the club this year after hitting .230 with 11 homers and 30 RBIs combined last year in 77 games with the Cardinals and 39 with the Astros, who acquired him in an August trade.

Being a relative newcomer to the team, Greene is anything but the face of the franchise. But considering the Astros will hit Kissimmee in three weeks with several roster spots up for grabs, Greene hopes to make a favorable impression. Whatever role he plays, he's not listening to the naysayers that pick the team to take its lumps in the AL West.

"You come to Spring Training and you concentrate on your team and you try to improve," he said. "If we're able to bond and form that team chemistry in Spring Training, it's going to really provide a foundation throughout the season to get better."

The CAREavan continues Wednesday with a military appreciation lunch at Ellington Field in Houston, which will be followed by a baseball and softball clinic in Pearland, Texas, and an autograph signing at Academy Sports + Outdoors, 2804 Business Center Drive in Pearland. The autograph session, scheduled for 7-8 p.m. CT, is free and open to the public.

Astros manager Bo Porter, shortstop Jed Lowrie and top pitching prospect Jarred Cosart are scheduled to be on Wednesday's CAREavan stops. Former Astros pitcher Brandon Backe, a native of nearby Galveston, will also be taking part.

Brian McTaggart is a 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.

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