Growing up in the hard-scrabble city of Paterson, N.J., baseball was just a natural escape for Nazier Mule, as it was for many, many other young boys coming of age in a town that sits a little over 20 miles west of Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, N.Y.
As Naz’s dad, John Mule, pointed out to Perfect Game during an enjoyable telephone conversation early this week, there is a strong Hispanic and Latino presence in Paterson and it’s a community in which baseball is a natural extension of everyday life.
The locals grow up with the game being played in their backyards, alleyways and vacant lots and most consider themselves “baseball families” with a lot of Yankees fans populating the ranks.
There were other athletic options for Naz Mule to pursue, of course, but baseball seemed like the most natural path to follow; he walked that path with purpose right from the get-go.
“He picked it up so quick,” John Mule told Perfect Game when asked about his son. “He was in diapers hitting wiffle balls off of me in the backyard so baseball was inside him; it was programmed into him. Baseball is big in our little town here.”
At just 16 1/2 years old, Nazier Mule has already succeeded in making the game seem even a little bit bigger than it already felt before his recent arrival on the scene.
A 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-handed hitting primary shortstop who can also reach back and pull a 96 mph fastball from his quiver, Mule has spent three years positioned firmly near the top of the PG class of 2022 national prospect rankings.
And as the spring prep season of 2021 begins to gain steam all across the country, the 2019 PG 14u Select Baseball Festival alumnus and U. of Miami commit finds himself ranked as the No. 19 overall prospect in his class (No. 5 shortstop) and the No. 1 overall guy in his home state.
John McAdams, PG’s National Scouting Coordinator for the Northeast Region, has been observing Mule’s continued development and evolution as a ballplayer for nearly a decade now, and is not surprised by the heights the young prospect has already ascended to.
“The biggest thing that has always resonated with me is his desire to be the best,” McAdams wrote in an email. “Simply put, he feels like his success has and will continue to uplift where he came from in Paterson, N.J.; the talent has always been there even from an early age.”
Naz Mule is winding down his junior year at Passasic County Technical Institute in nearby Wayne, N.J., a public school that serves over 3,700 students. The PCT Bulldogs are rapidly approaching the start of their 2021 season with the first scrimmage scheduled for April 8 and the first game that counts on April 19. It’s been a long time coming for everyone after the 2020 season was shelved due to the pandemic.
He packs a lot of activity into his waking hours these days now that the high school season has kicked off, with classes during the day, high school practice right after school and then additional lessons and training in the evening. The training facility is called PS2 Athletics, and it fields club teams in the 12u to 18u age-group levels, which Mule has been active with in recent years.
“I joined PS2 Athletics right here in Wayne, N.J., which is really great,” Mule told PG during the same telephone conversation with his dad. “(The staff) really wants to develop their players and more than just as a player but as a person. A lot of my high school guys play for that team, as well, so we already had that chemistry.”
Mule’s PG career has already been prolific in a variety of ways, especially considering the most important summer and fall of his career is right here in front of him. He has been rostered at 53 PG events since 2015 – a very high number for a Jersey kid – but as his dad pointed out, he is often included on a roster although it was going to be impossible for him to attend that event.
He has participated in a ton of events in Florida, Georgia and all up and down the East Coast, however. Mule has earned PG all-tournament recognition 15 times and he’s been a two-time Top Prospect List performer at PG showcase events.
Naz Mule’s parents, John and Alexis Mule, both work in the medical field that involves stem cell research there in Paterson, an occupation that John described as “ground-breaking” and “very exciting stuff”. They’ve also managed to stay actively involved in his baseball and academic careers and have done all they can to make sure their son is able to take advantage of the opportunities presented to him.
“When he was younger I found that it was better for us to venture out to different cities, different towns, different states because you get to see different talent,” John said. “In New Jersey, there’s some strong talent up here but nothing compares to down south where there’s a Perfect Game event in Florida and there are guys coming in from Texas and North Carolina and Georgia and all over coming to that event.
“We liked it because he was going against the very best to just gauge where he was. Now going into the summer before his senior year it’s important for us to go back out there and prove himself once again.”
As his dad noted, Nazier Mule got his start in baseball hitting a wiffle ball in the backyard and soon graduated to t-ball, playing in a local rec league. His talents were evident early on, so much so that he began playing with a 10u team as 5-year-old, playing right field and hitting ninth in the order. Hey, a kid’s got to get his feet wet somewhere, right?
There was no holding him back from there. Mule got hooked up with New Jersey Axemen as an 8-year-old and actually made his PG debut playing in the PG National Indoor League in 2017; he made his showcase debut at the 2018 PG 14u Northeast Showcase in Staten Island, N.Y., and earned Top Prospect List recognition.
The best was yet to come. In addition to his play with the Axemen, he’s taken the field with programs like the Gamblers Elite, Resmondo Baseball, the Bronx Bombers 15u and, of course, the PS2 Crusaders. More and more accolades came his way at each subsequent stop and the attention he received only drove him to work harder. The all-out effort wasn’t lost on a lot of important decision-makers along the way.
“I’m very low-key, very out of the spotlight, and he is in the spotlight when we go to these events,” John Mule said. “A lot of kids know who he is and walking in you can hear the whispers, ‘That’s Naz, that’s Naz.’ But for me, internally, I’m like, this is not normal life. It’s very overwhelming for me at times as a dad hearing people say how great he is and in my head I’m like, 'Yeah but he didn’t take out the garbage today.' He’s still my little boy...
“But his development has been awesome seeing him grow, and just wondering what tomorrow can bring it’s always exciting.”
Naz Mule was emphatic when he said, “I love the Perfect Game events” and he made that proclamation based on his experiences playing with and against the top age-group prospects in the country. But what he also came to realize is that these are not just great players, they’re great guys, as well, and nowhere was that more evident than at the 2019 PG 14u Select Festival.
Because Mule is young for his grade, most of the top 2022s were at the 2018 PG Select Fest, but he was joined in Fort Myers by fellow elite ‘22s in No. 4-ranked Termarr Johnson and No. 7 Nolan Schubart.
“The baseball aspect of it was great and the game was obviously awesome (but) the best moments and the thing that I love best about Perfect Game is that it helps you build bonds throughout your career,” he said. “I love the games (and) I love the practices and everything like that but the best moments were after the game or after the practices when we went back to the hotel...
“Those are friendships that will last forever. That event happened two years ago and I might have met those guys one time but we still talk to this day; that’s what I love most about Perfect Game.”
And it almost didn’t happen. Mule underwent an appendectomy six or seven weeks before the Select Fest and hadn’t played any baseball leading up to the event. But he did make it and performed well enough at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers that no one knew he had had such a long layoff.
“It was very exciting from start to end, from when we got to the hotel and seeing the way we were treated,” John said, “and then just seeing him playing on the Red Sox’s spring training field, that’s awesome stuff.”
Like all of the other top prospects in the prep class of 2022, Mule has a busy summer planned after the completion of his high school season. He’ll go out and play on the PG WWBA tournament circuit as often as possible while also attending the PG National Showcase in St. Petersburg, Fla., the East Coast Pro Showcase, and the Area Code Games.
He’ll be attending the USA Baseball Prospect Development Pipeline (PDP) in Cary, N.C., in early May and plans on being at the 2021 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in the fall. An invite to the PG All-American Classic is a possibility as well, when he would join a decorated list of New Jersey PGAAs that includes Pierce Coppola, Shane Panzini and Chase Petty from the 2020 Classic; he would be the first from Paterson.
“Those are the main events but anytime I’m home here I like to get into games with my local team over at PS2 just to stay sharp,” he said. “The summer’s going to be really big with a lot of big events and it’s just something I really look forward to.”
Nazier Mule committed to the Miami Hurricanes and head coach Gino DiMare as a two-way player. He’s played shortstop seemingly since those early diaper days but a 96 mph heater is hard to keep on the shelf.
By his own account, he’s played every position on the field numerous times and is more than capable of fielding each of the nine positions. “You can’t just be one type of guy,” he said, “you’ve got to be what’s most beneficial for the team.”
The 2022 MLB Amateur Draft is sure to be a consideration a year from now, but Mule is trying to stay in the present as much as possible. He’s got two more high school seasons to play and very important summer and fall seasons ahead of him, and his commitment to Miami isn’t something he’s about to take for granted. But a kid can be allowed to dream, can’t he?
“Obviously, the draft is always in my mind; it’s something you have to think about because that’s what your goal is. My goal is to get drafted and my goal is to become a professional and make it far, and the draft is the first step toward that.
“But that’s not the main focus in my mind,” he added. “The main focus is continuing my education at the University of Miami unless I get a life-changing offer that you just can’t pass down.”
Yes, the talented kid from the hard-scrabble city of Paterson, N.J. has come so far while also realizing there’s such a long, long way yet to go. John Mule is just amazed at how quickly the years have flown by already, thinking of the time when his son was a 7-year-old just getting started with club ball on his way to becoming the 16-year-old top prospect he is today.
And Naz Mule is equipped both physically and mentally to embrace the attention and the expectations that will continue to come his way. As his dad said, he wants to be in the spotlight and he wants either the bat or the ball in his hands when the game is on the line.
Or, as PG’s McAdams put it: “The truly astounding thing to me is how he has continued to grow as a kid. He has matured immensely throughout the years and I think he will end up being quite successful.”