CJ Kayfus smacked a hanging first-pitch changeup from Penn State reliever Steven Miller to deep right-center field for a walk-off two-run home run on Sunday. It marked Kayfus’ second career walk-off hit and gave Miami the series victory over Penn State.
It also was an encouraging sign for the Miami junior first baseman, whose goal this season is to show more in-game power after hitting a combined 11 home runs in his first two seasons.
Kayfus, a Wellington, Florida native, has excelled at Miami and hopes to take the next in his development this season. It’s an important year for Kayfus, as he enters this season as a well-regarded prospect for July’s MLB draft. Scouts project Kayfus as a likely early-round pick.
“That was the ultimate goal,” Kayfus said. “I thought Miami was a great option to give me that shot at having that dream of playing professional baseball come true. I wouldn’t change anything.”
Scouts rave about Kayfus’ bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline. The 6-foot, 192-pound left-handed hitter uses a short and compact swing to drive the baseball with authority into the gaps consistently.
He is a mature hitter with a well-rounded toolset. He also is an above-average runner who can make an impact on the base pads.
“One big part of my game is my pitch recognition and strike zone awareness,” Kayfus said. “When I am down 0-2, I’m still as confident hitting as I am when it’s a 0-0 count. That is the biggest benefit in my game.”
Kayfus started all of Miami’s 60 games at first base last year after playing 31 games at first base and four games in right field his freshman year in 2021. Besides first base, he played all three outfield positions in high school due to his athleticism, instincts and accurate arm.
Kayfus’ versatility will benefit him long-term. He is an above-average defender with quality skills at first base. He has the potential to handle an outfield corner spot in the future.
“I’m a versatile player,” Kayfus said. “I can play first base and the outfield. If (coach Gino DiMare) wants me to play shortstop, I can play shortstop. I’m really comfortable wherever he wants me to play for the team and wherever makes the team the best.”
Last season, Miami led the ACC most of the season until experiencing some losses late in the regular season. The Hurricanes then lost in an NCAA Tournament Regional, finishing with a 40-20 record.
In his first two years at Miami, Kayfus hit .353 with 15 doubles, 11 home runs and 57 RBIs in 351 plate appearances. He struck out 55 times and drew 43 walks. He also went 17-of-21 on stolen base attempts.
Expectations for the Hurricanes this season are high, especially with Kayfus and third baseman Yohandy Morales back to anchor their lineup.
The Hurricanes have made 25 College World Series appearances in their history. But the last appearance came in 2016. This season, the Hurricanes hope to return to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, and capture their first national title since 2001.
“We just need to stick together as a team,” Kayfus said. “Last year, we fell very short after being ranked very high. We had a decent season besides coming up short in the regional. That is going to light a fire under us and for us to push harder at the end of the year.”
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Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for eight years. He has interviewed 433 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com, The Arizona Republic and The Dallas Morning News, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.