Being creative in MLB Draft has paid off for White Sox

When White Sox director of amateur scouting Mike Shirley spoke with reporters Tuesday to preview the MLB Draft, it didn't take long for him to bring up George Wolkow.

Wolkow is the 6-foot-7, left-handed hitting Downers Grove North graduate who was the Sox's seventh-round pick in 2023. A year out of high school, he's currently tearing it up with the Class A Kannapolis Cannonballs.

Over the past 16 games, Wolkow is hitting .393 with 6 home runs and an outrageous 1.324 OPS. Shirley was asked if the Sox have to be careful not to get too excited by Wolkow's rapid progress.

“First off, what success can do for a young player, it can pave the road for him to keep driving the car,” Shirley said. “You can never discount what success means. You start tapping into it, you realize, 'What did I accomplish? What am I able to do?'

“I think George has got the mindset, he's extremely mature. I think George has a chance to be a significant player. There's still a learning curve that's going to happen. But we invested in George because we believed he was capable of doing some of the things that he is showing you.”

Shirley first brought up Wolkow when he rehashed last year's draft. The White Sox made a mild surprise by taking Ole Miss shortstop Jacob Gonzalez at No. 15 overall.

But MLB drafts have to be evaluated in totality. Because the White Sox signed Gonzalez for roughly $500,000 less than what that pick was slotted for bonus money, they were able to offer Wolkow $1 million to skip college and turn pro.

“We invested in Jacob at a discounted rate in some ways to get to buy what George is becoming,” Shirley said. “That is the way you have to be prepared to do this.”

This year, the White Sox have the No. 5 overall pick and could make a similar “underslot” play. Shirley said the scouting department is thoroughly researching 10 players for consideration at No. 5, since they're not sure how the top four picks will play out. The first round is Sunday.

“I think we all feel good about what's happening in the minor leagues,” Shirley said. “To add this piece of what No. 5 could possibly be to the next wave is substantial. It's a must. We all know how pivotal it is to get this right.”

There's some added pressure to hit a loud home run with this year's first-round pick. Because of MLB's new anti-tanking rules, the Sox cannot pick higher than No. 10 next year. To add insult to injury, AL Central leader Cleveland has the No .1 overall pick on Sunday.

Shirley said the Sox prefer a position player, but confirmed the two leading pitchers in most mock drafts — Arkansas left-hander Hagen Smith and Wake Forest right-hander Chase Burns — are among the 10 players under consideration.

Shirley talked about a couple other local players faring well in the White Sox' minor leagues. One is 6-foot-9 left-hander Noah Schultz, the team's first-round pick in 2022 out of Oswego East High School.

Schultz started the year in Single A, then in his first seven starts for Double A Birmingham, he's posted a 2.30 ERA with an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio of 33-4.

“Him and Colson (Montgomery) are going to the Futures Game, that's awesome,” Shirley said. “Local kid, hoping he fills seats up. People want to come see him pitch. He's a real piece.

“I think the first time I saw him pitch, he was like 15 or 16. that breaking ball he's got, that lands in the strike zone all the time, it's a weapon. We're excited about what Noah's going to become. He's a real part of our future.”

A player the White Sox did not draft, but acquired from Atlanta in the Aaron Bummer trade, is Libertyville's Riley Gowens, a right-handed pitcher who played in college at Illinois. He was recently promoted to Double A.

Gowens' first start for Birmingham was Friday against Rocket City. He threw 5 scoreless innings with 7 strikeouts, no walks and just 2 hits.

“That's a great piece of the trade we got from Atlanta,” Shirley said of Gowens. “(His future is) to be determined, but he has made a lot of traction. Sometimes when you change organizations, you think your value goes up because mentally, 'Hey, this team wants me.' It expedites careers. He's done a nice job for us. Another nice piece to a pitching puzzle that's growing for us rapidly.”

X: @McGrawDHSports

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