By Bob Behre
West Windsor-Plainsboro South had the rare experience of seeing two of its grads selected in the same Major League Baseball Draft last June.
Right-handed pitcher Paul Balestrieri and infielder Matt McCann completed their studies at their respective universities last spring and began, like so many of their classmates, professional careers. Although, Balestrieri’s and McCann’s profession happened to include a bat and a ball.
Balestrieri was drafted out of Cornell University in the 26th round of MLB’s First-Year Players Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. McCann was selected out of Fairleigh Dickinson University in the 25th round by the Los Angeles Angels. Both would play a full and eventful summer in professional baseball.
Balestrieri settled in with the State College (Pa.) Spikes of the Short Season NY-Penn League. McCann moved around like a baseball gypsy, playing at four different levels -- Rookie, Low-A, High-A and Double-A -- of ball with the Angels.
The 6-2, 210-pound Balestrieri went 3-4 with a 6.49 ERA in 14 games (12 starts) with the Spikes. He permitted 38 earned runs in 52.2 innings-pitched while striking out 40 and walking 28 batters. McCann, who played shortstop, second base and third base, batted .246 with five doubles, a home run and 14 RBI in 172 at bats over 54 games.
McCann played his first 41 games with the Orem Owlz of the rookie Pioneer League. He batted .261 for the Owlz with five doubles, a home run and 13 RBI. He reached base at a .389 clip and was successful in five of his six stolen base attempts.
Balestrieri was 5-4 with a 2.18 ERA his senior season at Cornell, He permitted just 14 earned runs in 57.2 innings while striking out 36 and walking 15. He was even more dominant his senior season at West Windsor South. He posted a 7-0 record with a 1.08 ERA that year while striking out 61 batters. He was named the Colonial Valley Conference Player of the Year in 2013.
McCann had a breakout senior season at FDU (Teaneck, N.J.), batting .389 with 69 hits that included seven doubles and three triples. He drove home 30 runs and his .453 on-base percentage and .451 slugging percentage produced a gaudy .904 OPS. He also stole 25 bases. McCann earned four varsity baseball letters at West Windsor South and led Mercer County in stolen bases his senior season. His 36 swipes that year set a school record. McCann was named a Rawlings All-Northeast Region Honorable Mention selection.
Balestrieri and McCann were also teammates on the 2013 Mercer all-star team that won the county’s second Carpenter Cup championship in 28 years.
It’s been quite a run for West Windsor South under coach Don Hutchinson, as Balestrieri’s and McCann’s former teammate Ben Ruta was drafted a year earlier, in 2012, by the Yankees in the 30th round. Ruta, an outfield who played his college ball at Wagner University, finished the 2017 season with the Class A Charleston RiverDogs.