Avila was the Tigers' starting catcher for the team's four straight American League Central Division titles, which included catching Cy Young Award seasons for starting pitchers Justin Verlander in 2011 and Max Scherzer in 2013.
Nicknamed "The Titanium Catcher" for the perception among many baseball fans that he was unusually likely to be hit by foul tips, Avila has a history of concussions and concussion-like symptoms. He spent time on the disabled list for a concussion in 2013 and missed games on at least two occasions in 2014 for concussion-like symptoms after taking blows to the head. His most recent reported concussion occurred in the clinching Game 3 of the 2014 American League Division Series when a tipped foul ball hit him in the mask, knocking him out of the game and ending his season three innings early.
Avila played prep baseball at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 34th round of the 2005 Major League Baseball Draft, but chose to attend the University of Alabama where he was an All-SEC selection. Following his junior year in which he hit .343 with 17 home runs and 62 RBI, he was then drafted by the Tigers in the fifth round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft.
On August 6, 2009, Avila made his major league debut for the Tigers against the Baltimore Orioles where he had two hits, scoring a run and also batting one in. He started the following night, August 7, and in his first at bat of the game hit his first career home run off Anthony Swarzak. He finished the 2009 season playing in just 29 games, with a .279 batting average, 5 home runs, and 14 runs batted in.
Avila made the Tigers 2010 Opening Day roster and shared playing time with starting catcher Gerald Laird. Baseball America ranked Avila as the sixth best prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization entering the 2010 season. Avila was the catcher for Armando Galarraga's near-perfect game on June 2, 2010. In part-time duty, he finished the season with a .228 average and 7 home runs in 294 at-bats, while throwing out 32% of potential base-stealers.
Avila was named the Tigers starting catcher for the 2011 season, and showed considerable improvement. On July 3, 2011, he was voted to the All-Star team as the starting catcher for the American League, beating out New York Yankees catcher Russell Martin who had led through the majority of the voting. Alex also caught Justin Verlander's no hitter on May 7, 2011 against the Toronto Blue Jays. His season stats included a .295 batting average with 19 home runs and 82 runs batted in.
Avila won the 2011 Silver Slugger Award for the American League at catcher, making him the 10th Detroit Tigers catcher to win the award and first since Iván Rodríguez in 2004.
Avila followed his career best 2011 season with one marked by inconsistency, particularly at the plate. Nagging injuries undercut his offensive performance while catching the fourth most games in the American League. His offensive numbers dropped across the board, as he finished with a .243 batting average, 9 home runs and 48 RBI. Avila was first in the American League in runners caught stealing, but also led the AL in passed balls.
Avila had a horrible first half at the plate in 2013 and spent some time on the disabled list in June. Through the end of June, Avila was batting just .172.
He fared much better in the second half, hitting .281 over the season's final three months, including batting .343 in September (23-for-67). Avila hit the first grand slam of his career on July 30, 2013, against Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg. In an August 5 game against the Cleveland Indians, a team the Tigers battled for first place in the AL Central all year, Alex clubbed a game-winning three-run homer in the top of the ninth inning off Indians closer Chris Perez. On September 15, Alex drove in all of the Tigers runs with two homers, including a go-ahead solo shot in the eighth inning, helping the Tigers to a crucial 3–2 win over the Kansas City Royals. He would finish the season batting .227 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI.
On January 31, 2014, Alex avoided arbitration with the Tigers by signing a one-year contract worth $4.15 million, with a club option for 2015. His hitting struggles continued into the 2014 season, as he batted a career-low .218 while matching his 2013 totals of 11 home runs and 47 RBIs. He also struck out a career-high 151 times. Defensively, the season was a success, as Alex was a finalist for the 2014 Gold Glove Award at catcher. Avila allowed only 3 passed balls in 122 games at catcher, versus 9 and 10 the previous two seasons, and he threw out potential base stealers at a 34% rate, the highest of his career.
On November 17, 2014, the Tigers exercised the $5.4 million contract option on Avila for the 2015 season.
The 2015 season was not kind to Avila, as he struggled mightily at the bat (.191, 4 home runs, 13 RBI) and lost his starting catcher position to James McCann. He suffered a knee injury that robbed him of some time as well. At the conclusion of the 2015 season Avila became a free agent, having reached 6 years of service time. His father Al Avila, named General Manager of the Tigers following Dave Dombrowski's departure at the 2015 trade deadline, chose not to pursue his son in free agency.
On November 25, 2015, Avila agreed on a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Chicago White Sox.
On December 23, 2016, Avila signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Detroit Tigers. On April 6, 2017, Avila hit an RBI double in the eighth inning on his first at-bat against his former team, the Chicago White Sox.
On July 31, 2017, Avila and pitcher Justin Wilson were traded to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for infielder Jeimer Candelario, shortstop Isaac Paredes, and a player to be named later or cash considerations.
Avila is a second-generation Cuban American. His father is Al Avila, the general manager and executive vice president of baseball operations of the Detroit Tigers. Avila's godfather is former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who is a friend of Alex's father Al and grandfather Ralph.
When his father Al was named Vice President and Assistant General Manager of the Tigers, Alex was a sophomore in high school. The family moved to the Metro Detroit area, and Alex attended De La Salle Collegiate High School in Warren, Michigan for his sophomore year. Alex moved back to Florida for his junior and senior years of high school.
His cousin, Nick Avila, was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 37th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft. Nick is currently a coach for the Gulf Coast Tigers.
His younger brother, Alan Avila, was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 2008 in the 47th round; he chose to play baseball at Nova Southeastern University instead of signing. He did not continue his playing career after college and currently holds the title of Assistant Counsel, Baseball Relations for the Tigers.
He is married to Kristina Avila (formerly Pérez), whom he met in high school. They have two daughters, Avery Noelle, born on April 7, 2013, and Zoey Gabrielle, born on March 4, 2015.