ST. LOUIS -- Long known as a team with a taste for college pitchers, the Cardinals got away from that draft tack in the past couple of years. On Tuesday, they returned to that modus operandi, selecting right-hander Adam Ottavino from Northeastern University in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.

Ottavino, a 6-foot-5 right-hander, posted a 2.98 ERA and a 4-5 record for the Huskies, pitching 93 2/3 innings over 14 games (13 starts). He struck out an impressive 120 batters against 33 walks and permitted four home runs. Ottavino reached double figures in strikeouts in five starts.

The Cardinals characterized Ottavino as a player who still has some development left to do, but far from a project.

"He's one of those college pitchers that still has some upside remaining," said Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals' vice president of player procurement. "He's got a very good fastball, he's got some secondary stuff, he has excellent mechanics.

"He's put up good numbers at sort of an off-the-beaten-path school. We've scouted him a lot this year and we were excited that he was there. He's a big guy with plus tools that's definitely got some upside left in him."

Ottavino, a native of New York who played college ball in Boston, has seen plenty of the American League East. He's looking forward to making his way toward the National League Central, though.

"It's awesome," Ottavino said. "I've been speechless the whole day and really excited. I feel great about it. I'm just hoping to get started."

Both Ottavino and the Cardinals expect that a contract will be worked out in rather short order. He's likely to head to short-season State College of the New York-Penn League at first, once a deal is done.

"I guess I'd like to get it done as soon as I can," said Ottavino. "I don't have a specific date in mind. I haven't talked to them yet about exactly when that's going to happen, but I would like to get it done as soon as possible.

"I didn't know whether I was definitely going to be picked, but some things were discussed that I had an inkling of it early this morning. I think we've got a lot of the parameters pretty much set up."

The Cardinals' first three picks were pitchers from Division I NCAA programs. The club had its eye on Ottavino from the very beginning of the season, when he pitched in an exhibition game against the Red Sox early in Spring Training.

"He's very projectable," said Cardinals scout Kobe Perez, who followed the right-hander all year. "He's 6-5, 225, wide shoulders, strong legs, fastball anywhere from 90 to 96 [miles per hour]. He's got classic mechanics and he's very deceptive."

According to scouting reports, Ottavino, 20, relies on a plus fastball and a quality slider, complementing them with a developing curveball. Over three years at NU, Ottavino went 13-13 with a 3.09 ERA, 290 strikeouts and 116 walks in 253 1/3 innings.

"He's the type of guy that has the ability to touch 96 [mph], but we don't expect him to pitch there," Luhnow said. "We expect him to pitch with an average [velocity] fastball, but the fact that there's a little bit more in there and that he has durable mechanics, for us, is exciting. We think he has the potential to be a 200-inning guy with multiple pitches."

Ottavino caught many eyes with a brilliant early season performance against national powerhouse Georgia Tech. In that game, his first start of the year, Ottavino held the Jackets to two runs on two hits, striking out 12 and walking three.

"To draft a pitcher like this who graded out very well across the board with us is a big plus for our organization," Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said in a statement released by the team. "He'll be a great addition to the depth and quality of the pitchers in our Minor League system."

Ottavino also threw a no-hitter against James Madison University on April 7, striking out 14 and walking three in a 2-0 victory.

"That was a great game too," said the right-hander. "I had never thrown one of those before. When you're going through it, you don't really appreciate it because you're just trying to get the next guy out. When it's over, it's a great thing to look back on."

The Cardinals nearly had a very difficult dilemma. They had right-hander Daniel Bard from the University of North Carolina rated extremely highly, and Bard fell all the way to the 28th pick -- two before St. Louis.

"If he was there I would have a tough decision to make, because we weren't expecting him to be there," Luhnow said. "We were making some calls in a flurry a few minutes before. I can't tell you what I would have done, but it would have been a gut check because he's a good pitcher."

Two years ago, the Cardinals took right-hander Chris Lambert, another right-hander who played his college ball in Boston. Since 1995, seven of the Cardinals' 13 first-round draft picks have been college right-handers. Last year, they started with two position players, taking high school outfielder Colby Rasmus and Georgia Tech shortstop Tyler Greene with their two first-round choices.

St. Louis had a slew of picks in this year's draft, with six of the first 106 selections. With the No. 42 pick, a selection in the supplemental first round, they took another college right-hander -- Miami Hurricanes closer Chris Perez, who has racked up 12 saves for a team advancing to the NCAA Super Regional round.