While consolidating the minor leagues during the 2020 season, Major League Baseball claimed that reducing and realigning its developmental leagues would increase player salaries at all levels, increase condition standards at ballparks and clubhouses, and create lower operating costs for teams.
Some minor league players in the Los Angeles Angels organization say that is not happening for them.
Kieran Lovegrove, an active pitcher for the Double-A Rocket City Trash Pandas, said he is living with six other teammates in a three-bedroom apartment, sleeping on a twin mattress, with one person sleeping in the kitchen and two others in the living room. Others like Shane Kelso -- who spent part of the 2021 season with the low-A Inland Empire 66ers, another Angels affiliate, before retiring due to the living conditions for players -- said four teammates bunked in a camper van in a trailer park while others lived out of cars.
"It's gotten to the point now where there are guys who are in a serious mental health crisis because of how stressful money is here," Lovegrove told ESPN. "I really do think it affects not only their play on the field, but I think it affects quality of life overall. We're reaching a point now where this is actually becoming detrimental to the players' overall health, and the owner not addressing it is [the organization] actively saying that they don't care about the health of their players."
Kelso said he was losing $1,000 a month from his savings and would have been broke before the end of the season had he not decided to retire; rent for his housing cost $2,000, but the team paid him $1,600 a month.
"People don't understand the mental strain that comes along with that, that you don't know how much money you're going to have at the end of each month and not knowing how you're going to make ends meet," Kelso said. "I was a late-rounder. I didn't sign for a lot of money. The vast majority of players are in my position."
Lovegrove worked as a Lyft and Uber driver and as a warehouse worker for UPS and Best Buy in the offseason to supplement his minor league income and maintain his career pursuit in baseball. While Lovegrove remains on the minor league roster of the Trash Pandas, he said he is considering ending his baseball career after 2021 because of the financial and mental health strain of life in baseball.
One of the major issues facing minor leaguers, according to both Lovegrove and Kelso, is the lack of access to quality food. Kelso said the team expected him to consume between 3,500 and 4,500 calories a day but only fed players 800-1,200.
"That's required for our job," Kelso said. "If we don't do that, our bodies fail and we can't do it."
Lovegrove said he witnessed the bodies of teammates break down because of the lack of healthy food options, with many defaulting to fast food like McDonald's or Taco Bell.
"They were not receiving enough nutrition to maintain muscle mass," Lovegrove said. "We had guys lose 5 pounds in two weeks."
Lovegrove said that the living conditions for minor leaguers show that Angels owner Arte Moreno "really doesn't give a s--- about the winning side" of running a baseball team because of its failure to develop the next generation of baseball players.
"It's frustrating when you're sitting in the pen and you're hearing guys just harp about how bad the ownership is and how bad the organization is because you don't want guys to be somewhere that they are unhappy," Lovegrove said. "Is Moreno completely out of touch with the reality of what it's like to be a player? Probably. I don't see that really changing because I don't know that he really does care about the quality of the organization so much as the amount of money it produces."
ESPN asked the Angels for comment, but did not specify Moreno, as earlier reported.
Angels general manager Perry Minasian responded in a statement through a team spokesperson.
"What is being reported is unacceptable, and we will look into it and address it," Minasian said.
Lovegrove previously played in the Cleveland Indians, San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations. He said that there was a large gap between how he was treated previously versus in the Angels' farm system.
"Cleveland redid their entire weight room, providing three meals a day. They were flying guys out," Lovegrove said. "They were giving a lot of players, not just their top prospects, the opportunity to seriously improve themselves under the eye of the organization, and in doing so, I think they produced significantly better players than they would have had their system operated like the Angels."
Kelso believes Moreno and the Angels are symptomatic of a bigger issue in baseball.
"They made the move to consolidate, so it gave the owners in the league more power that they can choose what they want to do with minor leaguers," Kelso said. "There's no longer a separate body that is Minor League Baseball. I don't think that move was to improve living conditions or money [for players], because it didn't. It made living situations worse."
Teams across baseball are making changes to their minor league systems, including the Giants, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets. The Giants previously were not paying salaries to players in extended spring training before changing their tune in June, according to SFGATE. The Red Sox are now offering additional benefits to minor leaguers, including extended spring training back pay and housing stipends retroactive to early May. The Mets joined 12 other teams in baseball in paying extended spring training players.
"It is time for the Los Angeles Angels and every other MLB team to take responsibility for housing their minor leaguers during the season," said Harry Marino, a former minor leaguer and the director of the organization Advocates for Minor Leaguers. "The players will not be satisfied until that outcome is achieved. In the meantime, we should ask why we entrust our national pastime to billionaires who don't care if their employees have a place to sleep at night."
Lovegrove added that he is not concerned about his baseball career ending because of the decision to speak up against the Angels organization
"Arte Moreno wouldn't have his kids live like this," he said.