Although he first played professionally in the Venezuela Summer League at age 17, second baseman Jose Altuve, the 2017 American League Most Valuable Player, made his first appearance in the United States in Greeneville, Tenn.
Greeneville is one of the best kept secrets of professional baseball in the state. The rookie level franchise in the Appalachian League is entering its second season as an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.
But in 2008, the club was the Greeneville Astros, and Altuve was an 18-year-old playing his first pro ball in this country.
He has become Greeneville’s most celebrated former player, although other Greeneville players have included major league stars J.D. Martinez and Carlos Correa, Altuve’s current infield mate at shortstop in Houston.
Altuve started 38 games at second base with Greeneville in 2008, batting .284 and hitting two home runs. He returned to the club in 2009, batting .302 with three home runs, and was named the team’s most valuable player. He was an Appalachian League All-Star. Before that season ended he was promoted to Tri-City in the New York-Penn League.
In all, Altuve played 95 games in Greeneville, before moving up the ladder and making his major-league debut in Houston in 2011 at age 21. He had signed as a 16-year-old in Venezuela, a non-drafted free agent. Since then, he has been a major league All-Star six times and became the second player in Astros history to start in consecutive All-Star games. The first was Hall of Famer Craig Biggio.
When Altuve won the American League MVP in 2017, he was only the second Astro to win the award, the first being another Hall of Famer, Jeff Bagwell.
Altuve is now 28. He had knee surgery this off-season for a broken right kneecap. But he is considered a key reason the Astros are expected to be a contender for the World Series title again. He is proof of what can come out of the minor league ballparks across Tennessee.
Greeneville is one of four teams in Tennessee in the Appalachian League, with the Kingsport Mets, Elizabethton Twins and Johnson City Cardinals. As a rookie league, the Appalachian League does not begin play until mid-June.
Greeneville opens play against Kingsport on June 18 at Pioneer Park.