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Ex-Lee, current Ga. Tech star Nichols negotiating with L.A. Angels

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ATLANTA -- Thomas Nichols thought about the question for a minute, and couldn't come up with the exact answer.

"I guess I was 6 maybe 7, or maybe before that,'' he said. "I guess I started dreaming about playing in the big leagues from as far back as I could dream.''

Nichols sure still felt like he was dreaming Tuesday when he found out he had been drafted in the 16th round by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

"It's pretty exciting,'' said Nichols, a former star at Lee County High and Herald Player of the Year in 2007 who is coming off a monster junior season at Georgia Tech. "It feels unreal, like a dream. You feel like you want to wake up and see the reality.''

The reality is simple: The Angels liked everything about the hard-hitting third baseman, and the next step is a negotiating process that has already started. Nichols is represented by Miles Shoda, who is trying to hammer out a signing bonus with the Angels.

Nichols knows if he signs he won't have to play in the rookie league, which is usually for players drafted out of high school. If he signs, the Angels will send him to the Single-A Orem Owlz in Utah and he'll play this season in the Pioneer League.

Nichols played third base for the eighth-ranked Yellow Jackets and was the second--leading hitter in the Atlantic Coast Conference, batting .384. The Leesburg native was second in the ACC in on-base-percentage (.519) and seventh in the conference in slugging percentage (.652).

"I'm definitely ready to play pro ball,'' Nichols said. "I've got a couple of years of college behind me and feel I'm ready after my junior year. I have plenty of time to come back to college and get my degree.''

If Nichols signs as expected, he will start his career in Orem, 645 miles from Anaheim and possibly two or three years from the majors. None of the Angels' Top 15 prospects in their system is a third baseman, but they did pick Georgian Kaleb Cowart of Cook in the first round. Cowart was Gatorade's National High School Player of the Year.

But so much can happen in baseball that timetables are almost impossible to predict, and young players are often traded before they ever reach the majors. Nichols figures time is on his side.

"I would like to get to the majors in three, four years, max,'' he said.

That's the second part of the dream. The first came true this week.