Betting on Himself: George Wolkow starting pro career early with the White Sox


By Jeff Vorva

This spring, 18-year-old George Wolkow will not be playing baseball against Downers Grove South, Hinsdale Central, Hinsdale South, York, or Glenbard West. The left-handed hitting Wilkow graduated Downers Grove North early, and this would have been his senior year in high school.

He bet on himself and was drafted by the White Sox in the seventh round last June. He will be one of the youngest players in professional baseball in 2024.

Some experts speculated that the 6-foot-7, 240-pound outfielder should have waited a year, and he might have been a first-round draft pick. Even though he earned a reported $1 million signing bonus, he could have left a lot more money on the table if he were drafted higher in the coming years.

But Wolkow, who had also made a commitment to South Carolina in case he wasn’t drafted, made his decision based on wanting to get the clock ticking on his pro career.

“Growing up, I put in the work and went through the process to get to this level in the sport,” Wolkow said in a January interview. “For me, I knew the development options in the years after high school are obviously better than the development you can get in high school. I was ready for that jump and ready to start my career. When I made that decision, I didn’t know if I was going to sign or get drafted or if I was going to honor my commitment to South Carolina. But I was ready for that next step regardless of where it was.”

It wasn’t an easy decision to make. And it may not be an easy decision to live through.

“This kid is going to get his rear end kicked over and over again,” White Sox scout J.J. Lally told the Chicago Sun-Times last August. “But this kid is mentally tough. He’s very mature. He knows he’s going to be challenged. He knows he’s going to get beat. But he’s willing to come back every single time.”

“I can chase my dreams a year earlier.”
– George Wolkow

Wolkow is ready for whatever is thrown at him. He seems comfortable being uncomfortable. “I knew it was something I really wanted to do and I knew that it was going to be tough and there are going to be challenges ahead,” Wolkow said. “I feel like I’m a very driven individual, and I really like to push myself in uncomfortable situations. That’s how you get better. Making that jump, I knew, would be uncomfortable at first, but I know I’ll be able to start my career a year earlier. I can chase my dreams a year earlier.”

He might have that drive that makes him want to play for the White Sox parent club as early as this year, but he knows that’s not reality. He is more general than specific in his 2024 goals.

“I just want to be readily available and to be consistent,” he said. “Obviously, I want to have a breakout year and put my name on the map. But the mature way to say it is to be available every day and be consistent. To be a great player, a great person – everything. Whatever level I start at after spring training, I’ll be ready to just get after it. If I do that every single day for two or three months, by the end of the year, I can look back at it and be happy with the work that I put in. Over time, if I’m good every day, eventually, I’ll be great.”

Wolkow grew up as a kid who was bigger and taller than everyone else his age. His overall goals are as big as his frame. He said his goal is to be a Hall of Famer when his career is over.

There is an adage that baseball is a game of failure, and Wolkow embraces that.

“I love how the best of the best fail seven out of 10 times,” he said. “It’s a game of failure, and it’s the only sport where you can sign a $700 million contract and still have to go in every day and focus on something to get better at. I really like the process and the grind.”

While he grinds through spring training in Glendale, Arizona’s Camelback Ranch, in his first full year as a professional, the baseball fan in him is going to get a kick out of meeting some new peers that he admires.

“Out here in Glendale, we share our spring training complex with the Dodgers, and there are a few big names over there with some pretty cool contracts, so I think being able to walk across the pond and meeting some guys like that would be pretty cool,” Wolkow said, referring to Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

“Growing up, I’ve been a big fan of Bryce Harper. One day, I would love to play against him and walk on the field and shake his hand.”

Wolkow was a standout multisport athlete at Downers Grove North.